On my personal New England bucket list has been to get into the water and catch my own quahogs, like native locals did long ago. Thankfully, one of my best friends lives on a salt pond in Narragansett. So on a bright spring day she set out to teach three of our friends how to clam for quahogs. We had a fabulous time and I caught enough to make a typical Rhode Island dish, stuffies, to bring along to my nephew’s graduation party.
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First off, What is a Quahog?
If you aren’t from New England, you may only know this word from the TV show The Family Guy, but quahogs are a real thing. Also known as Western North Atlantic hard-shelled clams, they are found on the east coast of the US. In Rhode Island we call them quahogs and use them in our cooking. Like many names in the area, quahog is a derivative of a Native American word. It means horse fish and natives used the shells to make wampum. The clams live in mud, often in estuaries or ponds.
Rules About Clamming in Rhode Island
Do I Need a License to Clam in Rhode Island?
If you are a Rhode Island resident, no. If you are visiting, get a license here.
Are There Any Limitations on Clamming in Rhode Island?
- You can only clam during daylight hours.
- You cannot sell your catch without a commercial license.
- The quahog must have a one-inch hinge width. A clamming bucket will size them for you or you can buy a clam gauge.
- There are limitations about the amount of clams you can harvest. Read on for specifics here along with up-to-date laws.
How to Clam (Specifically for Hard-Shelled Clams)
Find a muddy salt water pond and consult the tidal tables to clam at low tide.
We found our quahogs in Narragansett’s Point Judith Pond. We fished from our friend’s property, but you can park along the Galilee Escape Route and wade into the pond from there. Clams tend to live in clusters, so once you find a good spot be sure to explore it thoroughly.
There are three basic ways to clam for quahogs and you can see them all in the video at the end of the post:
- Using a garden rake, dig a shallow hole along the muddy shoreline. You will find clams among the rocks, although they will be smaller than deeper clams. You don’t have to get wet for this method. Be sure to return the ground to the way it was before you started digging.
- Using a clamming rake, find a muddy area about knee-deep. Dig up a large scoopful of mud. Use the bucket on the rake to sift through the mud, looking for clams. If the clam stays in the bucket, it is large enough to keep.
- Go barefoot or wear soft-soled water shoes, such as these, into knee-deep water. Use all of your foot to burrow into the sand until you find something hard. Reach your hand into the sand and grab it, pulling it out of the water. Hint: Clams will move slightly when you touch them, rocks won’t. This was definitely my most successful method of clamming. Keep your clams in a clam bag or a floating clam bucket, as you catch them.
Getting Your Clams Home
Clams need air, so keep your clams in an open bowl or your mesh bag. They need to stay cool, so transferring them in a cooler is a good idea. Do not put them directly on the ice.
Once you are at home, keep them in an uncovered bowl in the refrigerator. Before cooking them, soak them in cold water for at least 30 minutes. This will give them time to expel any sand they contain. After their soak, scrub the shell to remove any debris.
Throw them away if they smell bad or open, but don’t close on their own when you squeeze them.
Eat your quahogs within 24 hours of catching them.
Stuffed Quahog Recipe “Stuffie”
Quahogs, especially large ones, are a tougher clam species. Because of that many people use them chopped up in stuffing, known in Rhode Island as a stuffie.
- 1 stick salted butter
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 onion, minced
- Half green pepper, minced
- Half red pepper, minced
- 2 T Worcestershire sauce
- 3 sleeves Ritz crackers, crushed
- salt and pepper to taste
- Chorizo sausage, optional
- Lemon wedges
- Hot sauce
- Preheat oven to 375* F
- Bring one inch of water to a boil in a pot. Carefully place clams into pot. Put a lid on the pot at a slight angle, so steam can escape.
- Steam clams for 5-10 minute, just until they open. Do not over cook or they will be tough. Throw away any clams that do not open. Be sure to reserve the water for later.
- Let clams cool, then mince them. My husband likes them finely minced, so you get the flavor of clams in the dish. My son prefers big chunks.
- Break the shells in half and place them inside up on a baking sheet.
- Melt butter in a pan and saute onions, garlic and peppers.
- If you choose to add sausage to your dish, add it now as well. Rhode Island has many Portuguese people, so it is traditional to add it to. My family prefers them without.If you use sausage, you can use half of the butter.
- When the veggies and sausage are cooked through, put them into a mixing bowl with the remaining ingredients. Stir well.
- Add water from the clams until the stuffing is moist. Do this by tipping the pot and using a ladle to skim water from the surface. The water at the bottom will contain sediment.
- Stuff each shell to overfilling with your mixture.
- Bake for 30 hour on top shelf of oven, until warm throughout and slightly browned.
- Serve with lemon wedges and your favorite hot sauce.
Watch my clamming adventure on my YouTube channel.
Have you clammed before? Where and did you have any luck? Get into the story and let me know in the comments.