By Rebecca Gardon
SAN DIEGO, Calif., April 3, 2014—Until recently, import regulations made highly sought-after chocolate clams almost impossible to find outside of Baja. Blood clams, considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, have also proven hard to come by. Catalina Offshore Products, one of Southern California’s premier seafood purveyors and San Diego’s only exporter of sea urchin, is now among a small handful of distributors bringing both clam species to the U.S.
Enjoyed by notable chefs including Richard Blais, Rick Bayless and Roberto Cardazzo, chocolate clams or almejas chocolatas are often referred to as “Baja’s seafood candy.” Named for the uniform brown color of its shell rather than any chocolate flavor, the meaty Mexican chocolate clam is one of the largest West Coast bivalves, reaching up to six inches across.
Plentiful chocolate clams (Megapitaria squalida) are harvested in and around in Mexico in all coastal lagoons from Magdalena Bay south along the Pacific side of Baja, throughout the Sea of Cortez, and along the coast of the mainland to Guatemala where they colonize in sandy bottoms in very large, dense populations.
Harvested along mangroves, Baja’s blood clams (Anadara tuberculosa) are closely related to East Coast blood clams; however, their consistently larger size (almost one-half pound each) makes the West Coast species more desirable. Characterized by the blood red color of their liquor, blood clams are also known in Baja as mangrove cockles and black clams, or concha negra. Their dark, meaty flesh offers a rich, briny, sweet mollusk flavor with a firm, chewy texture.
For decades, chocolate clams and blood clams have not been allowed into to the U.S. due to strict import regulations of wild shellfish. “This is the first time wild clams have been permitted to cross from Mexico to the U.S. since the 1940s,” said Catalina Offshore Products CEO Dave Rudie. “The FDA has been working closely with Mexican authorities to make sure all proper testing and procedures are being followed to ensure a product that is safe for consumption.”
Blood clams present best when served raw, lightly pickled, steamed, or as the star of ceviche – particularly Peruvian-style. For chocolate clams, a simple escabeche (lightly marinated in citrus and served live or cold) works well for a half shell presentation, as does Loreto-style: baked with a layer of Monterey Jack cheese, garlic, chipotle and butter. Chefs are experimenting with modern presentations as well. Recently Top Chef: All Stars winner Chef Blais (Atlanta’s Flip Burger Boutique and The Spence) paired chocolate clams with a chilly foam chowder and jalapeno oil at his new San Diego restaurant, Juniper & Ivy.
Chocolate clams and blood clams are the latest of new items for Catalina Offshore Products. Earlier this year the company also debuted a new Baja farmed yellowtail (hiramasa). For more information on Catalina Offshore Products, call 619-297-9797 or visit catalinaop.com.
About Catalina Offshore Products
Founded in 1977, Catalina Offshore Products was once exclusively a sea urchin/uni wholesaler in both domestic sales and exports to Asia. Today Catalina Offshore Products is one of Southern California’s premier seafood purveyors and San Diego’s only exporter of sea urchins. As a primary receiver of fresh fish and shellfish, the company specializes mainly in wild and farmed species found along the California coast and Baja. Nearly 75 percent of the seafood Catalina Offshore Products sells is sustainable and much of it is sushi grade. In 2012, Catalina Offshore Products expanded by opening its Seafood Education and Nutrition Center featuring a walk-in fish market. For more information, visit catalinaop.com.
Catalina Offshore Products