Every now and again, I get a request for something truly out of the ordinary. Urchin roe and sea asparagus immediately come to mind…One of the more common of the uncommon (?) requests is for cockles. Fact of the matter…We didn’t have them before, and we don’t have them now…However…What we DO have are Manila clams (Tapes philippinarum)! Manilas are very similar to cockles in both taste and appearance, and will work equally as well in any application. A little background…Manila clams were introduced to North America quite by accident. In the 1940s, after the collapse of the native oyster stocks (The Olympia-Ostreola conchaphila-became commercially extinct in the mid-19th century, largely due to the overharvesting and pollution associated with the California Gold Rush), Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) spat was introduced from the waters of coatal Asia. Manila clam spat happened to be mixed in with that of the oysters, and both species flourished in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. This is one of those far-too-rare instances of non-native species being introduced to a foreign eco-system, and having no dramatic negative impact on the environment. At any rate…While the vast majority of Manila clams which make it to the commercial marketplace are of the farm-raised variety; our Manilas are wild product and are harvested through Native American fisheries located on tribal leases in Washington State’s Hood Canal. The clams are hand dug, culled, graded, bagged, and are then staked to the shores of the Canal for a natural finishing. This finishing process keeps the clams suspended off of the floor of the Canal, thereby affording Manilas time to purge themselves of any sand, grit, mud, etc. Now then, as far as aesthetics…The Manilas are in a class quite themselves. The shells are distinguished by a fine scalloping, and wider bands of dark pigment commonly run along the same grain. The Manilas present exceptionally well, and may be just thing your chefs are looking for if they are bored and or burnt out on the incredibly versatile littleneck (Mercenaria mercenaria), or just want to mix it up a little bit. As an aside…We have started seeing hand harvested Maine littlenecks and topnecks with a fair amount of regularity. But I digress…At any rate…The Manila clams have been coming in at roughly 20 pieces per pound, and are available in 10-pound units. Meats are full and tender, with a slightly lower salinity than you will find in a North Atlantic littleneck. As with all of our products sourced through the waters of the Pacific, pre-orders are strongly encouraged on the Manila clams.
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