Nicknamed “Baja’s seafood candy”, chocolate clams (almejas chocolatas) are the delightfully named shellfish specialty of this beautiful peninsula. Their scientific name is Megapitaria squalida, with their common name resulting from their brown color (rather than having a chocolate flavor). They have a meaty and tender flesh that makes them particularly delicious and are the largest of the west coast bivalves, growing up to six inches in diameter.
Chocolate clams can be found in the coastal lagoons that stretch south from Magdalena Bay along the Pacific side of Baja California Sur, as well as in the Sea of Cortez all the way south to Guatemala. It’s here that they bury themselves in the sandy bottoms in dense populations before migrating to deeper waters as they grow.
Chocolate clams reproduce when water temperatures rise to a suitable level and will reproduce throughout the year in areas that experience these optimal conditions. They usually bury themselves about two inches under the sand in water as shallow as six to eight feet, making them easy for local fishermen to harvest while free diving. They can easily be spotted by their “eyes”, which are the intake and exhaust tubes they use for filtering food.
Once harvested, chocolate clams are sold on to local restaurants ready to be transformed into creative dishes or direct to tourists wanting to sample the unique bounties of Baja California Sur.
How to enjoy chocolate clams
To prepare the clams, simply slice them in half and clean out the brown-colored innards. Then separate the clam meat from the shell and rinse with salt water. They can be served raw with a dash of lemon juice or lightly marinated, as well as incorporated into fresh salads or baked in the oven. Chocolate clams are also delicious when cooked in the half shell on the barbecue, then slathered with a garlic butter dressing.