Clams, Mussels, Oysters—Know What They Are and How to Cook Them
These are fast and easy to cook, so here's all you need to know to buy and prepare these shellfish.
The Philippines is lucky that it has a great variety of fresh seafood available daily in the market. But if you've ever wondered how to prepare the different shellfish availble, here is the guide you need to get you started on your very first clam bake.
Clams, or more generally known as halaan, come in many shapes and sizes. The most common you’ll find in markets are these:
Manila clams are small, bivalves with off-white shells usually around 1 to 2 inches diameter with a large hinge.
Razor clams look like its namesake, sporting a long, thin, razor blade-like shell.
Scallops have beautifully large thin red and white shells, and are commonly the size of your palm.
Mussels, locally known as tahong or the Asian green mussel, have gorgeous black-green shells that taper from an oblong-shaped shell to its hinge. Our local tahong are green tipped but other breeds include those that are completely black or have dark blue shells.
Oysters, known locally as talaba, have large, unevenly formed off-white colored shells the size of your palm. It has a distinct inward curve on one of its shells which is usually the side that is opened up. It’s famed for producing pearls but it’s great to eat, raw or lightly steamed, as well.
How To Buy
When buying these edible mollusks, it’s good practice to buy those that are still alive. The only tried and true test to know before cooking that every shellfish you purchase is alive is to check each one. One way is by to gently tap on one whose shells are slightly ajar. If it reacts by closing up, it’s still alive. If it doesn’t, it’s probably dead and should be discarded. Any closed shellfish has a good chance of still being alive but the only true test is by cooking it.
Razor clams have extremely brittle shells, so avoid any that have broken shells.
The exceptions to this rule are scallops and oysters. Unless you’re familiar with how to open the shells, scallops and oysters are sold cleaned and out of its shell, most likely in a saline solution or its own juices. These are best bought and consumed the same day of purchase.
Only buy fresh and unopened scallops and oysters if you have the properly tools and are familiar with how to shuck them.
How to Prepare
Shellfish in general are easy to prepare and cook. Once you have a bag of these, preferably all are still alive at the time of purchase, you can start by cleaning them. Here’s how:
For clams and mussels, these are usually soaked a few hours to overnight in the refrigerator in fresh water. This is to allow the shellfish time to spit out any dirt or any other substances it may have ingested prior to cooking.
For mussels, these usually have a beard (a hairy thread or protrusion near the hinge that is responsible for keeping the mussel in place) that should be removed immediately prior to cooking. Use clean pliars or a kitchen towel to get a hold of the beard and pull out from the shell to remove. These are inedible so discard after removal.
For oysters, brush the outside of the shells clean under running water. Since oysters are usually served in the half shell (one shell is removed with the other holds the meat), the shells should be free from debris when served.
How To Cook
The easiest way to cook clams, mussels, and oysters is by steaming. Once you have your cleaned shellfish, bring a pot with about an inch of water to a boil. Once boiling, add the shellfish, cover, and let steam about 10 minutes, covered, or until the shells have opened. Any that have not opened are most probably dead and should be discarded. Season and serve immediately with steamed rice or bread. If desired, you can flavor the water as desired with garlic, onions, ginger, parsley, and salt and pepper to add more flavor to your dish.
Oysters in the shell and even razor clams can be served raw with vinegar on side as its commonly served in the provinces.
Scallops meanwhile should be seared over high heat in plenty of oil or butter for more flavor like a steak to prevent sticking. Once seared, which should take only a minute or two, flip and cook before serving immediately.
Grilling or simply frying are fantastic ways to cook any of these shellfish as well. Just place in a hot pan over high heat and cook until shells open. Remove from heat and gently season before serving. If grilling, place on foil or a pan to catch drippings before placing on the grill and letting the heat cook the shellfish in its shells. Again, cook until the shells open for a fast and easy meal by the seashore.
Shellfish is plentiful in a country that’s made of islands, and each of these edible mollusks are best when bough fresh from the catch and served as deliciously as possible.