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Many cook books advise that fresh clams should be soaked in salt water with a bit of corn meal added. The purpose is that the clams will consume the corn meal, thereby cleansing their gut of sand.

However, I've seen it said elsewhere that this is unnecessary for farm raised clams since they are raised on a medium suspended above the bottom and therefore not exposed to sand.

My question is twofold:

1) Is the first advice valid at all? Does this soaking improve the taste and/or quality of the clams?

2) If #1 is true, does it also apply to farm raised clams or is the step unnecessary?

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According to Ask A Chef the cornmeal is not necessary. It is the salt water that actually causes the clams to purge themselves:

The thought behind using cornmeal is that it is an irritant that causes the clam to "cough" and expel all sand that may be in its shell. There is also a thought that it helps to change the flavor of the meat and make them less fishy (I can't say I have noticed a flavor difference between a clam purged with cornmeal and one without). Whether you use cornmeal or not you will need to use saltwater. Soaking the clams in saltwater for an hour or two will allow them to cycle clean saltwater in and out of the shell and purge the sand. Using cornmeal to purge is common and is thought to aid in the complete expulsion of the sand, but it really is not the real reason the purging will happen.

As far as purging farm raised clams, some (perhaps even most) suppliers purge them for you before sending them to market, so doing it yourself may not be necessary. However, I could not find an authoritative source that indicates this is always true.

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    From what I recall from my zoology classes, I'm prone to believe this. Clams are filter feeders and they don't get to choose what comes in the water they filter. It's going through them, cornmeal or not. The coughing thing is probably just silly. If inhaling sand doesn't make you cough, then inhaling cornmeal sure as hell won't. So I'm thinking Ask A Chef is probably dead on. – Carey Gregory Aug 24 '13 at 5:37
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Further info: This weekend I made linguine with white clam sauce, so I tested the theory about farm-raised clams. I soaked all but 5 of them in salt water (no corn meal). I marked the shells on those 5 so I would know which were which. None of the clams had any sand, including the 5 un-soaked ones. So either the producers purge farm-raised clams, or the way they're raised they don't need purging.

In a week or two I'll try the same dish with wild clams and see if the soaking makes a difference for them.

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    Oops, forgot to update this. I did try the experiment with wild clams a few weeks later. Once again, I found no difference. The samples are too small to draw any definitive conclusions, but I'm prone to think it makes no difference with wild or farmed clams. – Carey Gregory Dec 29 '13 at 22:38
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I worked in the seafood industry for over 13 years. Farm raised or commercial clams, do not need to be purged, because they have basically gone through a purging process, when they were stored. We sold a ton of clam and never really had an issue with sand. However, if you go clamming and bring back a bunch of clams, they will definitely need to be purged. If you think about it, clams live on the sandy ocean floor(At least the wild ones do). So putting them in sea water, or salty water that is close to the same consistency as the ocean, the clams would naturally eject the sand, as they take in new water. You will want to change the water out, every 20-30 minutes and they should be good to cook, after 2 or 3 soaks.

As far as corn meal goes, I have heard several people tell me that corn meal speeds up the process. We recently went clamming and brought back our limit of cockles. We tried the corn meal, but no one ever really said how much to put in. We put in quite a bit(About a half a cup) into a 5 gallon bucket(Keep in mind the clams came to about 1/3 of the way from the bottom. And we filled the bucket with salt water, and let them sit over night. They still had sand in them. So it looks like, the key is changing the water a few times. I hope this helps

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