Softshell clams don’t require shucking as they are generally steamed open, but hardshell clams do. At a restaurant, a shucker opens your cherrystones so they can be laid out on a plate with lemon and cocktail sauce. Shucked clams in the restaurant kitchen are also made into Clams Casino and other dishes. Shucking clams is a skill!
A good shucker at a seafood restaurant may shuck hundreds of clams a night. It is fun to watch. Oftentimes the shucker will wear a special outfit of rubber overalls and a formal, silly cap. It is especially fun to bring someone from the Midwest to watch a clam shucker. They tend to stare.
A special knife is used. The blade is short, usually about four inches long and dull on the sides. The tip may be bent upward slightly. Most of the time, shucking knives have wooden handles. The right knife is critical: once a clam shucker has found a knife that works for him, that’s the only one he’ll ever use. The blade is thin and contoured so that the middle is raised and the edges are flat. It takes this type of sculpted blade and easy handle to fit instantly between the two halves of a hardshell clam, so that with a snap it can be opened.
To shuck a clam, you take it in one hand, generally the less-favored hand (if you are right-handed, pick up the clam with your left). Fit the blade between the two shell edges, then force it backwards, snapping the clam open. Looks easy -- it isn’t! The tension holding the clam shut varies around the edges. A shucker learns to identify by feel the exact point at which to place the knife blade, and the wrist motion needed to pop the halves apart. It’s not as difficult as golf, but there are still pros.
Your first time trying to shuck a clam it may take you three or four minutes and will take you some Band-Aids. You may even give up the first time. Try again. Top shuckers can open 10 or more clams a minute! They can shuck blindfolded. They can shuck behind their backs. Because it’s a manual art, with enough practice, some folks enjoy becoming expert. Top clam shuckers in the US compete for prizes and even more important, bragging rights.
Long Island, Cape Cod and Maine have multiple shucking competitions. Clam shucking battles are usually part of larger seasonal food festivals. Oyster shucking is better known, and is more complex due to the ripples and uneven nature of oyster shells. Because clam shells tend to be uniform, it is the one single wrist motion, insert-snap that is key. Tom Harriman in Yarmouth, Maine holds that state’s current title of 25 clams shucked in one minute. Beattie Quintal of Waldoboro held the record just previously for nine years in a row.
The best way to learn to shuck cherrystones is to ask a seasonal hire shucker to demonstrate for you. Generally he’ll be happy to do this – shuckers enjoy explaining their magic. It is better not to ask a friend or close family member. They will enjoy embarrassing you! – it’s not something you learn on-the-spot. How do you learn to shuck clams as easy and as fast as tying your shoes? – same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice!|