Weighing In: Clams vs Oysters

Chef Mike Obarka
Chef Mike Obarka

We are currently on hiatus until March 1st but that doesn’t mean the blog is stopping. Thanks to our friend Christa Seychew, we will have a guest post every Sunday afternoon. Today’s post is by our friend Chef Michael Obarka.

Democrat or Republican, Anakin or Obi wan, paper or plastic, Sabres or Leafs. It’s usually pretty easy to pick a side on most options presented to me. That said, for decades oysters and clams have been battling it out in my head for bivalve mollusk supremacy.

Both feed on a diet of plankton, are environmentally friendly and sustainable, maintaining proper nitrogen levels in the areas surrounding their beds…..blah, blah, blah! You know, sometimes it’s nice to eat something just because it tastes good without feeling guilt over whether or not it was grown more than fifty feet outside your neighborhood. Sometimes it’s nice to not think about whether or not you’ll catch a fucking earful from an outspoken “foodie” about whether or not it’s farm raised or free range. Nothing to worry about with these little guys. You’re not getting a plump, sweet little neck out of Ellicott Creek anytime soon. At least I hope not.

I try to keep both of them on my menu throughout the year, with winter being—in my mind anyway—a better time to eat them. In winter, you tend to find fewer dead ones, which is great, cause smelling one bad one will have you test smelling everything you encounter the rest of the day. However, most of the dining public think that summer is the more appropriate season for enjoying oysters and clams (context being key there, I suppose).

Oysters from Hog Island Oyster Co.
Oysters from Hog Island Oyster Co. (San Francisco)

On the surface it’s a tight fight. Both are great stuffed. Dredged, fried, and served on shitty white bread with cocktail sauce. Just raw with a squeeze of lemon or Tabasco. Or, of course, paired with some kind of cured pork. The two rightly have affinities that are similar.

But then there are the differences.

Oysters are like your satin, special occasion banana hammock. Fancy and classy! You get the whole terroir thing. West coast, east coast, gulf coast … what blows your skirt up? Are you in the mood for a tiny cucumber flavored Kumamoto? Or maybe you’d rather a straightforward Malpeque with its pure, briny essence of the sea. I prefer oysters accompanied by delicate accoutrements. When I place an order for the restaurant, I like to pretend that I’m being a nice guy, that my job is to help diners find a new favorite oyster variety. But at the heart of it, the oysters that arrive are really what I felt like slurping down myself that week. Quality control, right?

Little Necks and Chorizo from Liberty Hound
Little Necks and Chorizo from Liberty Hound

Clams on the other hand, are your favorite pair of jeans. You know them, and you fucking love them for what they are. Caviar and creme fraiche? Get out of my face! I want linguine and clams or a hearty bowl of chowder. Maybe shucked, topped with more chopped clams, casino butter, and bread crumbs. Or picked straight off the grill and dipped in an un-cheffy mixture of hot sauce and butter (which will—and should—drip down your wrist), then washed down with shitty beer that everyone is afraid to admit liking, but somehow flies out of the cooler when your back is turned.*

So, now that I think about it, this shouldn’t be one versus the other. They should join forces to become as great as an amazing wrestling tag team from the 80s. They’d be like the Road Warriors or British Bulldogs of the hors d’oeuvres table, dominating the smoked salmon canapés and Swedish meatballs.

* For the record, Budweiser rules. When the fad of making beer taste like potpourri is over, the king of beers will still be standing on the top of the hill! And it’s way too big to be adopted by the hipsters like PBR was, so have a Bud.

Chef Michael Obarka (pictured top) is the Executive Chef at Ristorante Lombardo, located on Hertel Ave. We think it’s one of the best restaurants in Western New York, you should probably stop what you’re doing and go eat there.

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