The Best Clam Variety For New England Style Clam Pie

Unless you're reading this from New England, there's probably a chance you've never dug into a clam pie's soft crust and steaming filling before. If not, think chicken pot pie, but with clams, explains MasterClass. It's essentially a double-crust pie filled with a thicker version of New England-style clam chowder. It might seem like an odd combination at first, but the dish is especially popular in New Haven, Connecticut, where clams are a readily available indigenous resource. There's even a popular local dish called "Clam apizza" — a clam pie-pizza fusion with white sauce and raw clams, reports Atlas Obscura. It's a cultural fusion inspired by the Napoleon-style pizza brought to Connecticut by New Haven's large population of Italian immigrants during the early 1900s.

Today, though, clam pie reigns supreme. But there are a lot of different types of clams to pick from. In fact, there are roughly 500 species of freshwater bivalves. At Lobster Place in Chelsea, NYC, the oyster varieties are listed on a T-graph with axes labeled "Big," "Small," "Salty," and "Sweet." It's a similar flavor continuum with clams. Their taste varies from region to region based on the natural brine of the water they're living in. According to Britannica, clams take in and expel water during respiration. They're able to breathe it out through their gills, but the water imparts an idiosyncratic flavor to the clam's meat. So, which clam variety should you use for your New England-style clam pie?

Get hog wild with quahogs

To make a filling, comforting, knock-out clam pie, nothing but northern quahogs will do. Quahog (pronounced KOE-hog) clams are the clams you're likely to find in your po' boys and chowders (per The Kitchn). Quahogs are colloquially also called "chowder clams." Why? They're massive. According to Cape Cod Shellfish & Seafood Co., Inc., they're the largest clam variety with an average width of 3 ½ inches. For comparison, Cherrystone and Top Neck clams are typically around 2 ½ inches wide. Quahog clams weigh ⅓ to ½ pounds each, explains The Kitchn; impressive heft for a single clam. Quahogs are also commonly found in the waters surrounding Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and Canada, making them a fitting ingredient for this regional dish.

On the culinary side, quahog clams offer a super meaty mouthfeel and a naturally savory flavor, reports MasterClass. It's a complement to the other ingredients (bacon, russet potatoes, yellow onion, fresh thyme, via Saveur) harmoniously mingling in your clam pie. When it's time to make your clam pie filling, chop those quahogs into smaller pieces. But, if you can't find quahogs and you're working with a different, smaller clam variety like littlenecks, states MasterClass, go ahead and leave 'em whole.