Maninose (Soft Shell Clams)

Stuffed Quahog

Man of Noses are a Shell-Fish commonly found amongst us. They are valued for increasing Vigour in Men, and making barren Women fruitful; but I think they have no need of that Fish; for the Women in Carolina are fruitful enough without their Helps.”[1]

                Much of the history of this variety of clam was spent as being used to lure more desirable fish and shellfish into the hands of the waterman.  The muddy waters that the clams thrive in make necessary the cleaning of the clams before cooking them.  Soaking them in salted water with a handful of cornmeal for several hours will cause the clams to expel most if not all of the sand and dirt from their bodies.  The sediment will settle on the bottom of the container and the clams can then be lifted out.    Most of the time this method works beautifully, but occasionally, you will come across a stubborn clam that does not wasn’t to cooperate with the nature of culinary science.  The down side is that you have to be careful when steaming these to strain the liquid that makes up your sauce.  Particles of sand can ruin the best clam liquor as it is often soaked up with a piece of crusty bread so careful straining of the clam liquor is essential to the preparation of steamed mannose. 

                These clams were looked down upon in the Mid – Atlantic region and are still not very popular.  Most of the demand for these shellfish come from the New England region and are shipped up every year to fund the classic clam bakes of the area.  It wasn’t until the latter half of the twentieth century that maninose were harvested commercially, thus the lack of any real recipes before this time.  Before the advent of the hydraulic dredge, clams were harvested by hand with a clam rake.  Currently the annual harvest exceeds 500,000 bushels.  

                Soft shell clams (Mya arenaria) got the name maninose (man of noses) in 1709 in the Carolinas, but since then, they have acquired countless nicknames throughout the region.  Steamer, piss clam, maninose, nannynose, Ipswich, squirt clam, gapers and long neck clam are just a few. 

                Soft shell clams are filter feeders and feed on microscopic algae and filter nonfood contaminates and toxins from the water encasing them in pseudo-feces removing them from the water supply.  Soft shell clams exceed the oysters in weight specific filtering rates, but they are lower than the hard shell clams such as the jackknife and the razor clam. 

                Because they are filter feeders soft shell clams can become toxic for human consumption by ingesting petroleum, heavy metals and insecticides.  Populations have also been effected by major storms, dredging operations and erosion. 

                There are different predators during the different life cycles of the soft shell clam.  Soft shell clams can reach market size within 2 years.  Before this time, the clams are pray to the Polychaete worm, the blue crab, the mud crab, shrimp, mummichogs and spot fish.  During the adult stage of its life, it is subject to being prayed on by the blue crab, the eel and the cownose ray. 

                In 1950 the hydraulic escalator was invented and man became a serious pray to the maninose as well.  Real harvesting began in 1953 and maxed out at over 8 million pounds (meat weight) by 1964.  This remained relatively stable until 1971.  Tropical storm Agnes ripped through the region and decimated the soft shell clam population and harvest since declined dramatically.  We have seen a rise in the population of soft shell clams and since the 1972 season harvests have steadily increased in Maryland and are now annually around 3 million pounds. 

                Low salinity in the upper bay limits the distribution of maninose in the Chesapeake.  Maninose are usually centered in areas surrounding Pokomoke Shore to the Eastern Bay, and on the western side from the Rappahannock River to the Severn River in Maryland. 

                While sediment type dose not directly affect soft shells, they seem to thrive in areas of sandy mud since it is dense enough to offer some protection from predators.  The depth of the burrow increases with age, the maninose are usually burrowed about 2 centimeters below the surface when they are about 1 centimeter in shell length, 4 Centimeters when they reach 2 centimeters in length and 12 centimeters deep when they have reached full maturity at 4 centimeters in length. 

                Maninose spawn twice a year in the Chesapeake region, the time depends on the temperature of the water.  The clams spawn best in conditions not exceeding 47° F.  This only happens a few times in the Mid-Atlantic Region and if temperatures do not reach those levels then the clams will not produce any offspring at all for the year.  A large female maninose can produce upwards of 85,000 eggs at a time, making larger clams important to maintaining the population of the clams.  The egg develops into a trochophore larva within a single day and becomes a veliger larva within two additional days. 

                The entire process from egg to juvenile clam occurs within a two week period under optimum temperatures.  The newly settled maninose or “spat,” will attach themselves to any available surface with byssal threads which excrete from the foot of the clam.  On average, over 99% of the eggs and larva will be destroyed in the water column.  Jellyfish play the most dangerous role during this period of their life.  Once settled onto a substrate, about 90% of the juvenile clams will be destroyed within a few days. 

                Maninose are filter feeders and exceed the oyster in filtering rates but cannot filter bacteria from the water as other clams and oysters can.  The maninose can’t survive in climates which are under 5 parts per trillion in salinity and will not grow in salinity levels under 8 parts per trillion, there is no known upper limit for salinity, but the areas containing higher concentrations of salinity also allow predators a longer span of time in which to hunt them out.  There is no known lower limit of temperature known since the maninose can survive in the coldest climates the Chesapeake region has ever experienced.  Sudden decreases in air temperature have been known to cause mass fatalities in intertidal juveniles, but not in older clams. 

                The “dead zones” of the bay region caused by runoff of nitrogen from agriculture and allow proto-plankton and algae to grow beyond control taking all the oxygen from the water and suffocating many fish, seem to have little to no effect on the maninose population.  The clams can live in almost anaerobic environments and require little by way of oxygen to live. 

                Being a filter fish, pollutants and contaminants in the water can easily make their way into the maninose foodways and cause irreparable damage.  Most sewage and human toxins have little to no effect on them, but certain metals and chemicals such as copper and petroleum products are among the most deadly to the clam population. 

                The harvesting of the maninose has also come under fire in recent years.  The hydraulic escalators do not have any detrimental effect on the clams, but it does dredge up mobile fauna and submerged aquatic vegetation.  The primary concern raised however has been the damage done to the oyster reefs.  Because of the importance of these factors and the limited value of maninose harvesting as an aqua-culture industry, it has come under increasingly tight government restrictions.  Harvesting has been limited to maintain a parameter of 100 meters from any know oyster reef. 

                As the maninose has had little value in the region, it has never really captured the hearts and minds of the culinary world in Maryland.  Although, they are a prized delicacy in New England, little interest has been shown to the trash fish outside of pickling them for bait to use on crab trot lines.  Just as the blue crab and the Chesapeake oyster were once seen as trash fish and climbed to the heights of gastronomy, I believe that soon the maninose will also be seen in a more serious gastronomic light.  The availability of the product and the affordability of the clams will make them a bargain for cost cutting chefs in the region. 

                Most of the recipes I have come across regarding maninose from the region all seem to center around New England transplants.  The dishes such as clam bakes and steamed clams all originate from their northern counterparts.  There are a few innovations such as clam pie and clam cakes which seem to be a genuine effort on the part of locals to try to incorporate this product into our local diet, but it has not yet met with the success of the Chesapeake oyster or other delicacies of the bay.


Steamed Maninose

Christopher Gobbett



2 Tbs. butter

1 Oz. Olive Oil

2 Oz. Minced Shallots

1 Ea. Minced Garlic

2 Ea. Roma Tomatoes, Diced

12 soft Shell Clams, Cleaned

3 Oz. White Wine

1 Oz. Cream

10 Each Asparagus Tips

Salt & Pepper

Dash Sriracha Sauce


                Add the butter and oil in an lg. sauté pan.  Add shallots and garlic, do not burn.  Quickly add tomatoes and clams.  Shake pan constantly.  Add wine and reduce one moment.  Add cream and remaining ingredients.  Cover or place in hot oven until all the clams open up. 

I adapted a recipe for steamed mussels.  It works great for clams as well.  This serves as a great appetizer.  You can add pasta or French bread and serve as a great light summer entrée.


Eastern Shore Steamed Clam Bake[2]



6 – 8 Dozen Soft Shell Clams, Well Scrubbed and in Shell

(Allow 1 ½ – 2 Dozen Clams Per Person)

1 Large Onion, Coarsely Chopped

1 Teaspoon Salt

Generous Sprinkling of Freshly Ground Black Pepper

1 Cup Dry White Wine

4 Tablespoons (1/2 Stick) Butter


1 Pound Butter

2 – 3 Loaves Fresh Italian or French Bread


  • Place clams in a large kettle, steamer, or pot with a tight fitting lid.
  • Sprinkle onion over top of clams and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Pour wine over all and add butter.
  • Add enough water to pot to bring measure to approximately ½ Inch.
  • Cover pot tightly and bring water to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and steam clams for 5 – 6 minutes until shells open.
  • Discard any clams that don’t open.
  • Remove clams and shells with a slotted spoon to a large serving bowl, or individual bowls if you prefer.
  • Strain clam broth and taste for additional seasoning. 
  • Reheat butter in a small heavy saucepan until just sizzling, and pour into 4 individual bowls.
  • Dip each clam into broth, then into butter, then into mouth.
  • Crusty French or Italian bread, warmed for a few minutes in the oven, is ideal for dipping into remaining clam broth and butter. 


                The only health restriction regarding the maninose, besides environmental contamination is the common shellfish allergy held by many people.  This is traced to a type of plankton on which the shellfish feed and can cause death in people who are sensitive to this poison.  The common symptoms are a tingling around the lips and a sensation of numbness in the fingertips, it usually sets in within 10 minutes after eating any bivalve and if untreated leads to respiratory failure and death.  If a person can survive the attack for twelve hours then the chances are pretty good that they will survive and recover completely. 

Ideas for Chesapeake Maninose:

The common softshell was named Myes arenaria i...

The common softshell was named Myes arenaria in 1758. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Chesapeake Bay Soft Shell Clam Fritters[3]



1 Pint Clams, Fresh or Canned                                                  

½ Cup Milk

1 ½ Cups Flour                                                                                  

Salt and Pepper to Taste

2 eggs                                                                                                  

Dash of Cayenne

2 Tablespoons Baking Powder


                Drain clams and chop them.  Beat eggs till light; add milk; sift flour and baking powder and beat into the eggs and milk.  Add chopped clams, and then add seasonings.  Drop mixture into deep, hot fat and fry until golden brown.  Drain and serve.

There is no specific dish regarding the preparation of maninose. Until the 1950’s there was little interest in the clams locally as anything other than bait.

Eastern Shore Clam Bake[4]



6 Dozen Soft Shell Clams                                                             

12 Live Blue Crabs

12 Small Onions                                                                              

Lemon Wedges

6 Medium Baking Potatoes                                                        

Melted Butter or Margarine

6 Ears of Corn, in Husks


                Wash clam shells thoroughly.  Peel onions and wash potatoes.  Parboil onions and potatoes for 15 minutes; drain.  Remove corn silk from corn and replace husks.  Cut 12 pieces of cheesecloth and 12 pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil.  Place 2 onions, a potato, an ear of corn, 12 clams, and 2 crabs in a cheesecloth.  Tie cheesecloth up over the food.  Pour 1 cup of water over the package.  Bring edges of foil together and seal tightly.  Make 6 packages.  Place packages on a barbeque grill about 4 inches from hot coals.  Cover with hood or aluminum foil.  Cook for 45 to 60 minutes or until onions and potatoes are cooked.  Serve with lemon wedges and butter.  Serves 6.

A great idea, but I would not cook the clams or crabs for 45 minutes.  They will only take 15 minutes for the clams and maybe 20 for the crabs.

Steamed Clams Chesapeake[5]



4 Dozen Soft Shell Clams                                                             

½ Dozen Cup Boiling Water

Melted Butter or Margarine


                Wash clams thoroughly.  Place in a pan; add water.  Cover and bring to the boiling point.  Reduce heat and steam for 7 to 10 minutes or until clams open.  Drain clams, reserving liquor.  Strain liquid.  Serve clams hot in the shells with separate containers of clam liquid and melted butter.  Serves 2. 


                A Mid – Atlantic classic dish, often served in a wire basket.  I also add JB seafood seasoning or in a pinch, Old Bay seafood Seasoning.

Maryland Fried Clams[6]



1 Quart Fresh Shucked Soft Shell Clams                                               

2 Teaspoons Salt

2 Eggs, Beaten                                                                                  

Dash Pepper

2 Tablespoons Milk                                                                       

3 Cups Dry Bread Crumbs

Tartar Sauce


                Drain Clams.  Combine egg, milk, and seasonings.  Dip clams in egg mixture and roll in crumbs.  Fry in a basket in deep fat, 350 degrees, for 1 to 2 minutes or until brown.  Drain on absorbent paper.  Serve with tartar sauce.  Serves 6. 

                Note: a commercial breading may be used.  Follow Instructions on package


                Be careful when frying these, If they are overcooked they will become very chewy.  I serve this with a drizzle of Sriracha sauce.

Clam Cakes[7]



1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

2 Tablespoons Onion, Minced

¼ Cup Celery, Minced

½ Cup Cracker Crumbs

1 Large Egg Beaten

Pinch of Pepper

¼ Teaspoon Dry Mustard

1/8 Teaspoon Each Seafood Seasoning

Garlic Powder (Use ¼ Teaspoon for Spicier Cakes)

¼ Teaspoon Salt

¼ Cup Chopped Parsley

1 Cup Clams, Chopped and Drained

(Hard or Soft Clams May Be Used)


Conventional oven:

                Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Sauté vegetables in oil for about 3 – 5 minutes.  In a small bowl, combine cracker crumbs, egg, spices, parsley, and clams.  Add sautéed vegetables.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  After chilling pour off excess liquid.  Form into 6 cakes and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet.  Garnish with paprika.  Bake for 8 – 10 minutes.


                Follow above directions except: place cakes in a shallow dish.  Cover and microwave on high for about 5 minutes.  Pour off any moisture. 

                Yield: 3 servings. Calories: 149 Per Serving.


These are a great alternative to crab cakes when they are out of season.  They also make a great sandwich.

Clam Pie[8]



1 ¼ Cup Potatoes, Peeled and Sliced Thin

¾ Cup Onion, Thinly Sliced

½ Cup Celery, Diced

1 Pint Maryland Soft Shell Clams, Drained and Chopped, Reserving Liquid

2 ½ Tablespoons Flour

½ Teaspoon Salt

1/8 Teaspoon Pepper

¼ Teaspoon Seafood Seasoning

2 Tablespoons Margarine

¼ Cup Plus 2 Tablespoons Clam Juice

2 ½ Tablespoons Bacon Bits

Single Pie Crusts

Paprika for Sprinkling


                Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Brush a pie pan lightly with oil.  Layer half of the potatoes, onion and celery on the pie pan.  Layer with all the clams.  Sprinkle with flour and spices.  Dot with margarine.  Layer with all the clams.  Sprinkle with flour and spices.  Dot with margarine.  Layer remaining potatoes, onion and celery and sprinkle with clam juice and bacon bits.  Roll out pie crust and place over pie, flute edges.  Cut slits in the crust and sprinkle with paprika.  Bake for about 50 minutes.  Let sit for 5 minutes to set before serving. 

                Yield: 4 Servings. Calories: 412 Per Serving.

                This is a classic Mid-Atlantic dish.  Any number of vegetable variations can be used to make this.  Maninose is a great ingredient and often overlooked by professional chefs and home cooks.  They are a environmentally friendly resource and as seen above, extremely versatile.

[1] John Lawson (1709)

[2] The Chesapeake Bay Fish & Fowl Cookbook: A Treasury of Old and New Recipes from Maryland’s Eastern Shore by Joan and Joe Foley: McMillan Publishing Co. Inc. 1981

[3] My Favorite Maryland Recipes by Mrs. J. Millard Tawes: Random House Publishing 1964

[4] Chesapeake Seafood Specialties: United states department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of commercial Fisheries: 1976

[5] Chesapeake Seafood Specialties: United states department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of commercial Fisheries: 1976

[6] Chesapeake Seafood Specialties: United states department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of commercial Fisheries: 1976

[7] Maryland Seafood Cookbook 3: Office of Seafood Marketing: Maryland Department of Agriculture 1982

[8] Maryland Seafood Cookbook 3: Office of Seafood Marketing: Maryland Department of Agriculture 1982


About midatlanticcooking

Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region for over 20 years. Painter, writer and traveler.
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4 Responses to Maninose (Soft Shell Clams)

  1. Pingback: Soft Shell Crab |

  2. Ron Taylor says:

    I was born and raised on the Eastern Shore of Virginia on the bayside in a small town of approx 50 ppl back in the 60s (Guilford Creek) My dad and Grandfather and uncles use to dig for mannoses and sell them by the quart already shucked or by the Bucket in shell, We ate them differently then any recipe I have read or found, my Grandparents and Parents use to soak them to clean out most of the sand and grit and then shuck them and Boil them and My mom would mix corn meal into a pancake type batter and fry corn meal cakes (pancakes) then plate the cornmealcakes and pour some of the clam liquor over them surrounding the cakes with individual mannoses, The cornmeal sweetness mixed with the salt liquor of the clams were Very delicious and Ive never had anything quite like them or as tasty

  3. Bob Haynes, Mathews, Va. says:

    Where can the soft shell clams be bought in Va. or Md.
    Thanks for any help.

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