Coquina (Donax variabilis)
Common names: Bean Clam
Habitat/distribution: Coquinas love to be in sandy areas with a great deal of tidal action- they not only benefit from waves, but in fact migrate up and down the beach, following the tide. When the tide is active, great masses of coquinas may be seen right at the water line. As waves move out, millions of coquinas are exposed for a few seconds, until they burrow back into the sand (at surprising speeds).
Appearance/Size: It seems as though no two coquinas are the same color (hence the Latin handle), and they will rarely if ever attain shell lengths of greater than 1/2”. They are tiny.
Method of harvest: As with most western Gulf shellfish, no commercial harvests exist, though recreational harvests are permitted. Gathering coquinas is easy- one needs a shovel and a large sieve or strainer. When coquinas are spotted, simply shovel some of the sand into the sieve, and set the sieve in the water. In a few seconds, all of the sand will have washed away, revealing hundreds of coquinas. A 5-gallon. bucket will easily hold several thousand.
Cooking characteristics: The meats are tiny, no more than a small fraction of an inch after cooking. Though they are edible (and tasty), the sheer tedium of making a meal is more than most folks can stand- a good portion would take the contents of that 5-gallon mentioned earlier. This is not as much of a problem as would first appear, though, for the knowledgeable coquina cook is after something else- the nectar. Even the smallest coquina holds a surprising amount of juice, and the ease with which the juice is extracted makes this a fine food animal. Simply rinse the clams, place them in a large pot, add a very small amount of water, and turn the heat up. After a few minutes, you will have just about the best clam juice ever. No salt is needed, and nothing tastes better on a cold beach than a hot mug of coquina nectar!