If You Really Dig Clams

Clams. You can bake, broil, grill, even “casino” them. Classic linguine and clam sauce has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. I always requested it on my birthday and still order this favorite dish for special occasions.

Some tips on buying clams: First, the shells should be closed. They can be slightly cracked, but should be closed tight when you knock on them or run them under cold water. Second, smell your clams. They shouldn’t smell fishy exactly, but they should smell like the sea. Store them on ice or keep them refrigerated in a mesh bag. The cold temperature helps to keep them alive longer.

These wonderful, edible, marine bivalve mollusks are native to the east coast of North America, from Prince Edward Island to the Yucatan Peninsula. They live in sandy sea bottoms, so when you get them home it’s a good idea to purge them to eliminate any remaining sand from the inside of the clam. To purge, rinse the clams in cold water then submerge them in a large bowl or sink. Dissolve about one-third cup of sea salt and about one-half cup of corn meal per gallon of water. Leave them in the solution for a few hours, adding ice as needed to keep the water cool. Drain before using.

Good Ol’ Finger Lakes Clam Bake On the Grill (serves 2 to 4)
It’s all about the timing, so go in order and keep the mixture on high.

• 1/2 butchered chicken, cut into three parts: breast, leg and thigh.
• 2 ears of corn cut in half and coated with oil, Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
Put into a pot (in this order):
• 6 to 7 red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
• 2 cloves garlic, chopped
• Bay leaf and black peppercorns
• 2 cups of seafood stock
• 1 lobster
• About 12 clams, pre-scrubbed and purged
• A mixture of small-diced carrots, celery, onions and garlic
• 10 to 20 mussels (pre-scrubbed and de-bearded)
• 4 to 6 jumbo shrimp, de-veined shell on for flavor and fun
• Old Bay seasoning and fresh chopped herbs of your choice

Preparation
• Start by seasoning your chicken with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.
• Place the pieces on a pre-heated grill, skin side down.
• Drop scrubbed and quartered potatoes in a tall stockpot and cover them with the seafood stock and the garlic.
• Bring the potatoes to a rapid boil and cover. Cook on high for 10 minutes.
• Next, drop in the live lobster (if you like to kill humanely, pierce the lobster between the eyes with the tip of the knife) and cook for about 4 minutes.
• Add the clams and vegetables. Steam the clams and the rest of the ingredients for four more minutes. Place well-seasoned corn on the grill and roll it every few minutes to cook on all sides.
• After four minutes, toss in the mussels and continue to steam.
• Two minutes later, the shrimp can go in and the cover can go back on for two more minutes.
• Remove the lobster then stir all the shellfish with a large slotted spoon.
• Finally, scoop the seafood out and place onto a large platter or bowl. Crack all the lobster meat out of the shell (I use scissors to cut around the edges of the claws and up the back of the tail) and season with Old Bay and fresh chopped herbs of your choice.
• Chop the chicken and toss it on the pile along with the grilled corn.

Linguine & Fresh Steamed Clam Sauce (serves 4-6)
I use fresh cherrystone clams as the base. I use a few dozen small cherrystones (little necks) for the big pieces of clam, and then steam open a few large cherrystones for the broth. I chop up the meat to add to the sauce. The secret is saving the pasta water. The natural starch from the pasta, along with reduction, thickens the sauce. If you forget to save your pasta water, use a refined starch, like arrowroot or cornstarch slurry, as a substitute. The slurry is made with about one-half tablespoon of starch mixed well with warm water. When you add slurries to the sauce, the sauce needs to come to a boil first for it to work.

•1 to 2 dozen littleneck clams
•3 cloves chopped garlic
•1/2 medium onion, diced small
•1/4 cup of your favorite New York State white wine
•1 cup chopped cherrystones in clam juice preferably fresh, but canned can be substituted
•Hot pepper flakes
•1 pound cooked linguine, some pasta water reserved for sauce
•Olive oil

Finish with a splash of Tabasco a squeeze of lemon juice, 1 T chopped parsley, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Preparation

•Sauté the chopped garlic and onions in a sauté pan in a small amount of olive oil.
•Toss in the littlenecks and flip them around with a spoon.
•Add the white wine, then turn the flame to high and cover.
•Reduce the juice by cooking on high heat. As the clams open, you can pluck the meat from the shells, or serve with the shells; it’s the chef’s call. Careful – once they’re open they’re done and should be pulled out. This will avoid turning them to rubber. Toss them back in to heat when the sauce is finished.
•Add the chopped clams and the juice from steaming and continue to reduce.
•Finish the sauce by adding a refined starch slurry or a splash of the starch pasta water.
•Finally, finish with the Finish with ingredient list to taste.
•Toss the entire pot with cooked linguine. Serve with Crustini.

What clams are the best and how should I use them?
Chowder clams or Quahogs are the largest – over 3 inches in diameter – and are found in the northeastern part of the American coast. They are used mainly by commercial food companies for soups and chowders. The name Quahog comes from a Native American term (possibly the Narragansett) meaning “large clam.”

Cherrystones (sometimes called top neck) are normally 2-1/2 to 3 inches in diameter. There are three to four of them per pound. They have a larger adductor muscle, so the meat is good for shucking and frying, or steaming open and chopping for chowder, clams casino or a fresh clam sauce. Cherrystones are named for Cherrystone Creek in Virginia.

Littlenecks are smaller than cherrystones at about 2 inches in diameter. There are normally 10 to a pound. They are more versatile than the larger clams and the small adductor muscle makes it sweeter and full of flavor. If cooked properly, they can be soft and succulent but if they’re overcooked, “rubber town” is where you’re going. The key is to pull them off the heat as soon as they pop open. These clams are named for Littleneck Bay in Long Island.

Mahoganies are normally cheaper in price and full of sand. I suggest an overnight soak and purge in ice water. They can be substituted or cut with littleneck clams if you’re having a big party and want to save money.

Soft Shell Clams are not really soft shell. They’re more brittle and harder to find. Because they are fished and not farm-raised, only upscale grocery stores and fish markets carry them. They’re saltwater clams that don’t close all the way around the muscle, but if you poke at it a little, it should pull back into the shell. Soft shells can be used in just about any clam dish. They may cook a little quicker.


by Chef Eric K. Smith