Cajun Clams of Louisiana
The Cajun Clams of Louisiana
Can you eat clams from Lake Pontchartrain?
This is the question my friend and I were asking each other as we dug up dozens of small Rangia clams while swimming at a North Shore beach. A quick internet search revealed that they are edible, with caveats. Although Native Americans relied on the Rangia as a principle food source, discarding the shells in numerous middens, more recent efforts to commercialize these ‘Cajun Clams’ for food never really caught on.
You probably know Louisiana for it’s famous oysters.
The truth is that Rangia clams are even more plentiful in many of our waterways. The hardy Rangia is the only species of clam that thrives in lower salinity water environments such as the brackish zones common throughout coastal Louisiana. Ideal conditions for the clam are soft, muddy bottoms in water less than 20 feet deep; in prime areas, they can be as dense as 800 clams per square yard!
Rangia clams were dredged throughout the 20th century for use in roadways, parking lots and cement, but by the 1990s, dredging in the lake was banned. That’s because Rangia clams are critical for maintaining water quality – in addition to being a food source to fish, birds and crabs. Scientists estimate that in peak conditions, the clams can filter the entirety of lake Pontchartrain in little more than a day! What these little guys are after is their food source phytoplankton, but they intake silt and other particles in the process, which binds and settles to the bottom once excreted.
So how do they taste?
Delicious, with a mild, sweet flavor and none of the muddiness some folks warned us about! Your mileage may vary, but a critical factor is that they must be purged in water for a few hours prior to cooking to expel the grit, a process which store bought clams have already undergone. I am already looking forward to harvesting more of these amazing bivalves which, while tasty, also illustrate an important lesson in maintaining a healthy ecosystem in our lake!