The Local Food Report: blood clams

It is not often my husband has a hard time eating anything. He once swallowed a live, beating snake heart from a shot glass. (Eldest male, Vietnam.) But the blood clams gave him pause.

Truly, they look like a bloody internal organ. If you are eating breakfast, you may want to come back later. These clams are hairy on the outside and inside their blood has hemoglobin—the same protein that makes our blood red. The blood spills out when you open them, and it's all over the meat. That picture up there doesn't quite do the color justice—something about the yellowish tinge of the old Spectra film—but what it looked like in person when I took it is that Alex was holding something akin to a miniature resected bowel. I'm sorry.

The first time we attempted them our friends Teresa and Ed were over, who are normally very adventurous. They were appalled. "Not edible," said Ed. "Blech," said Teresa. We threw them into a seafood stew along with mussels and littlenecks and pollock. I backed out too. Alex tried one. He said the texture was terrible, which didn't help any of us get over the appearance.

But then. I was working on this week's show—going over and over the audio I recorded with Max Nolan and Crystal Young, the two young Wellfleetians who go after blood clams—and I was trying to write the script. I kept erasing and rewriting the sentence about how I couldn't bring myself to try them, and I could hear my editor, Jay, telling me how pathetic that sounded in my head. 

So, I did it. I figured from our first experiment that cooking was not the way to go, and I learned online that most populations that do eat blood clams eat them raw. You don't want to do this in some countries, since blood clams can carry hepatitis A, but they're safe around here. I found a recipe for Guatemalan blood clam ceviche that actually looked pretty good. I emailed Alex and asked him to bring home eight blood clams. And then I emailed Teresa and Ed and attempted to re-enlist them. Teresa remained skeptical, but she showed up. We minced tomatoes and cilantro and onion and cut up some avocado and juiced four limes. Alex opened the clams, saved the blood, and we minced the meats. The instructions said to add both the blood and the clams, which we did. We salted. We got out a bag of blue corn tortilla chips. We closed our eyes. We dug in.

And I can say without a hint of panic or doubt that they were delicious. They will never be beautiful or attractive. But mixed in with tomatoes and lime juice and cilantro they were meaty, succulent. They had a hearty quality, a substance, where our delicate local littlenecks would have disappeared. 

I'm not sure they have a big future. But people like Max and Crystal and Crystal's dad Chopper are catching them locally, and almost all of them go to Asian markets along the east coast. Maybe, just maybe, we could get a few local restaurants to go out on a limb and keep a few here.

Have you ever tried a blood clam?


I found this recipe over here and adapted it a bit. Try to keep an open mind about the appearance, and I truly think you'll enjoy the taste. There's a tutorial on how to open blood clams over here. And if you're looking for blood clams locally, they're available this time of year on request at my husband's fish market, Mac's Seafood, in Eastham.

8 blood clams, opened, blood reserved, and meats finely chopped
juice of 4 limes
a handful of cilantro leaves, minced
1 tomato, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced onion (red or white)
1 mild hot pepper, seeded and minced
a dash of Worcestershire sauce
sea salt to taste
a bag of tortilla chips, for serving

Mix together the blood clams, blood, lime juice, cilantro, tomato, onion, hot pepper,  and Worcestershire sauce in a bowl. Season with salt to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature atop tortilla chips.


Anonymous said...

Lime, cilantro, avocado, tomato and onion will make anything take delicious.

Elspeth said...

so true. i think that may have been my exact thought when i was convincing myself to take the first bite. and voila! delicious!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for my first opportunity to appear in a blood-sucking horror show. Funny how just like in those Twilight books, there was some je ne c'est quoi about the blood clams (at least the second time around, the time with the lime and all the rest) that had me coming back for more.

I noticed Ed is having a little trouble sleeping since then, though.

Anonymous said...

I sent this to a friend who I thought had eaten everything. He had never heard of them.
What's next? Agitated monkey brains?
What else has Alex eaten?

Anonymous said...

Several years ago i made aneedlepoint pillow of a lobster which was too large for my house so i gave it to Alex in Eastham. Do you know where the pillow is? fosterw30@comcast.net. Nothing to do with blood clams.

Anonymous said...

Transmission of Hepatitis C requires blood to blood contact. It can not be contracted by ingesting food. Hepatitis A, on the other hand...

Elspeth said...

thanks anon for the pointer! you are quite right.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about the blood clams connection to blood diseases like Hepatitis C, do you have a reference for this? I have heard of the Hepatitis A problems in China related to the water they were harvested from.

Anonymous said...

I grow up eating blood clam in Asia. We used to buy them frozen in Asian supermarket in NYC, but now I can't find them anywhere. I am 2 and half months pregnant and I have a really bad craving for it. Can you tell me where I can buy them?

Elspeth said...

Hi there,

I wish I could help but I don't know of a source in NYC. Here on the Cape you can try Mac's Seafood: 508.255.6900. Congrats on the pregnancy!

All the best,

Bayu Amus said...

I've been eating blood clams since a kid, but never raw! It comes from muddy environment hence cleanliness is always a concern. What's common in our country is to boil them and eaten with spicy sour dipping sauce. Or stir fry it with black pepper sauce/sweet and sour/Worcestershire sauce.

Unknown said...

Guys I'm from Latin America and I live in Houston Texas Blood clams is a tradition that we've ate for many many many years after a few reviews on Google I was skeptical about eating them however I'm so happy to read in the article that the way that we may come in the Central American part of the countries is the same way that we may come here and you can find them in the Asian supermarkets here in Houston Texas!

Unknown said...

Make them sorry typo!

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