Having the right tools to do any job saves time and makes the job easier. That surely holds true for opening clams and oysters.
When you grow up around the water in a place like Beach Haven as I did, you had these well-weathered, super experienced baymen and charter captains that did more than their jobs, they were jack of all trades guys. Fisherman. Gunners. Clammers. Crabbers. Watermen through and through. It’s how they lived and provided for their families.
It took allot of gear to catch or shoot the quarry. These guys had it all. Fishing you can never have too much tackle— rods, reels, lures, weights, hooks, you name it, you need a bunch of it to be successful. Garages and shacks were full of clam baskets, inner tubes, treading slippers, clam dredges for winter, tongs, scallop dredges, crab pots, peach baskets, shrimp dredges for catching grass shrimp bait, sneakboxes, pond boxes, decoys, guns, ammo, oars, buckets, bailers, minnow traps and cedar bait cars—the list goes on and on to do it right.
It wasn’t enough to have the tools to harvest the bounty of the bay and ocean, you had to have the tools to turn your harvest into meals. Knowing how to clean ducks, fillet fish, pick crabs and open clams were necessities for those dependent on the natural resources of the area.
In your kitchen you needed a good cleaver for the ducks, a couple quality fillet knives of different styles for the fish, a big steamer pot along with wooden hammers and picks for the crabs, a good oyster knife and a quality clam knife with a properly shaped stainless steel rounded tip beveled semi-dull edge blade and a wooden handle with full length tang to fasten to for strength and hand comfort when your opening a few hundred at a time.
The Atlantic Rancher Uncle Jack clam knife is purpose made not only to do the job, but last a long a time doing it, just like Uncle Jack would have expected. Atlantic Rancher’s Uncle Jack Shuckin’ Kit takes opening clams to new level. I was a mate on the deck for Uncle Jack Scheimreif and he was tough on doing things right. He had his way to do things and, well, his way to do things. So this kit is made to help you open clams right. Now we’re going to show you how to do it right.
First you have to have the clams well iced. You don’t want them to sit in fresh water, so you have to keep the cooler drained and fresh ice added to keep them covered. Try and get your clams the day before you need them so you can chill them on the ice properly and get them good and cold.
When it comes to opening clams, presentation is important. You can’t just jam the knife in and go straight through the clam. Doing this, you essentially mutilate the clam. This is what we call “breaking the bubble”. I have actually asked untrained frustrated shuckers that do not know how to open clams and are obviously struggling, if I could show them how to make it easier on themselves.
I don’t recall ever getting turned down. They usually greatly appreciate it. Most of the time they are using the wrong kind of knife as well as never having any real training. A couple times I have gone back with a proper knife as a gift for the former mutilator! It’s good to be friendly with your clam opener.
Once you have your Uncle Jack knife and your clams are cold you are ready to start opening. For our purposes, we will assume the shucker is right-handed, reverse this procedure for a southpaw knife holder. With your left-hand palm up, you need to cradle the clam with the hinge toward the bottom of your thumb, the short side of the clam facing the top of your hand and the long side facing the bottom of your hand.
This will allow you access to the to the crease. You will need to roll the clam over to access the hinge. While doing all of this try your hardest to keep the clam level so you do not lose the liquid, known as “liqueur,” which is the briny seawater that surrounds the clam, enhancing taste and flavor. It is always a good idea to open over a bowl and catch the liquor when opening clams for chowder or when you want some authentic clam juice in your Bloody Mary! I’ve also seen folks that open a mess over the bowl so when they present the platter after opening several dozen, they spoon the liquor over the clam to make it more appealing and brinier.
There are two ways to get into the clam, first by loosening the hinge and second by going in through the thin crease between the shells. If the clams are not cold enough, it’s more likely you will need to loosen the hinge. To do this, place the edge of the knife in the hinge and close your fingers over the back side of the knife blade squeezing and prying the blade up and down until the hinge pops. Once it pops, stop and bring the knife to the short end of the clam and begin to insert there.
A clam has two muscles that hold the shells together. In order to get the top shell off, you need to cut the muscles off the top shell. To do this, you don’t want to jam the whole blade into the clam, instead go in and work the tip and blade up to the underside of the top shell and cut the first muscle then bring the tip across to cut the second muscle. Do this trying not to “break the bubble” (the surface of the clam). Peel the top shell back and twist and pry it off.
To release the clam from the bottom shell, the easiest way to cut the muscles from the bottom shell is to slip the tip of the knife in under the clam with the blade facing the muscle you want to cut and slice in that direction. Pull the knife out, flip the knife over to face the other muscle and insert the tip of the knife under the clam and cut the second muscle.
Once you get proficient, you will learn how to cut the two muscles of the bottom shell with one move of the knife, but the first time you try this you will most likely cut the clam pretty good and ruin your presentation.
Understanding the anatomy of the clam will help you opening your clams, so you get inside and to the muscles. But having the right knife, the roper tool for the job is your first step to success. The Uncle Jack Kit is a necessity on the boat, in your travel bag or as a great gift for a Dad or friends. Support your local clammer, buy a hundred, get your knife and have a party! That’s how we do it down by the bay...