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A Note on Mollusc Care

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Clams, mussels, and similar shellfish can be a bother, or even a hazard, if not handled correctly.

Unless you collect them from the beach yourself and bring them home in a bucket of seawater, be sure to buy them from a good fishmonger. You might want to ask when they came in, and observe whether the server taps each one on the counter as they bag them for you, or just shovels them in. If he knows they're fresh, then shoveling them into a bag may be just fine.

When you get them home, you may want to store them for a few hours before you're ready to cook. The best way to do this is to keep them alive. Make imitation sea water by dissolving 1 Tbsp. of sea salt in each quart of cold water in a bowl large enough to hold them all. Put the clams or mussels in the bowl, then sprinkle some breadcrumbs over the surface of the water. The little molluscs will eat these, growing plump and excreting any sand they've ingested.

Place the bowl in the fridge until you're getting ready to cook. Standing at the sink, use a stiff brush to scrub the exterior of each clam or mussel clean under cold running water. You may want to pull the beards off any mussels while you're doing this. If any of them have cracked or broken shells, or won't close, throw them out. It may seem like a waste, but seafood poisoning is not nice.

On that note, when you cook them, you must also discard any that won't open. You can remove the opened ones from the pot and leave the stubborn ones for another minute or two, hoping for a late result, but after that, please do just throw them in the compost. (Yes, the shells are compostable.)