Feb
2007

COCKLES

Excellent fish and shellfish are not hard to find in Campania. The Tyrrhenian Sea is much more bountiful than the Ligurian Sea to its north and the Campanians who live along this shore have always exploited the waters, especially the sea rocks.

Traditionally, few Campanians could afford the glorious white flesh fin fish of that area so the average man had to make do with the lesser fish the so-called pesce azzurro. This group included anchovies (alici), sardines (sarde) and of course clams or vongole.

Along the southern coast of Lazio, into Campania, along the amalfi coast, clams known asarsellesare quite abundant. Known as tellines in French, they are hidden in the washy banks where the sea meets the sand. Gathering them is labor-intensive, since you have to rake through the sand to find them. Commercial fisherman sweep the superficial layer of sand close to the shore using huge combs fitted on boats with nets attached, but you will also find plenty of Italians who live near the coastline foraging for them on the beach itself using big rakes that they strap around their necks. It is a lot of work, but worth the effort!

Arselles are generally very sweet and flavorful. They aren’t as salty and assertive as, say,vongole veraci,or carpet shell clams, or the littleneck clams that are so common here on the East Coast of the U.S.

At Babbo, we use New Zealand Littleneck Clams for our dishes. Littleneck Clams are widespread in New Zealand waters as well as along the northeastern coasts of North America. They are found in beds of soft mud and coarse sand in estuaries. These delicacies are both sweet, subtle and clean-tasting, though saltier than their above-mentioned counterparts.

These hard-shell clams are sold according to size which also determines how they are eaten. Littleneck clams are the smallest of the hard-shell clams that come to market. The shells of littlenecks measure about 2 inches or less across, and they number about 480 per bushel. These are great for steaming or baking.
The slightly larger cherrystone clams, measure about 21/2 inches across and sell about 400 per bushel are excellent to use for clam sauce.

Clams are sold live in the shell, fresh or frozen or frozen shucked. When buying hard-shell clams in the shell, make sure the shells are tightly closed. If a shell is slightly opene3d, tap it lightly. If it doesn’t snap shut, it is dead ad should be discarded. Store live clams up to two days in a 40