Thursday, July 31, 2014

Steamed Clams in White Wine

I love cooking. I looooove it. I mean, it's obvious, isn't it? I love it so much that I have a food blog. News flash: you're reading it right now. Cooking is so relaxing and fun and the best part is that it yields an amazing reward; duh, you get to eat something lovely when you're done. I always enjoy trying out really involved recipes like macarons and lasagna made with homemade pasta. I think that time consuming dishes are gratifying because I can turn on some music or throw a show up on Netflix to give me some enjoyable background noise and bustle away. And then, a few hours later, I've got a gorgeous, delicious, impressive dish to share with my fellow diners. That's why I look forward to cooking our Thanksgiving feast every year.

Food is extremely important to me so I'm all about only eating delicious things. If I'm going to be a fatty, the food I'm eating might as well be worth my while. But, it's not like I've always got loads of time to make something elaborate and fancy. I work a full time job (around 50 hours per week) so on weekends, sure, I'm totally up for trying something complicated and new. But on any given typical weekday, I'm a big fan of meals that are quick and easy to chuck together while still being satisfying and delicious and impressive looking. Today's recipe 100% fits that bill. Clams are so jazzy; they take under half an hour to whip up, and they're friggin' yummy, y'all.
Ingredients [serves 4 to 6 as an app, 2 as a main course]:
3 dozen clams
1 oz. salt pork, chopped (or substitute 1 or 2 slices of bacon)
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ onion, diced
½ cup white wine
juice of ½ lemon
¼ cup chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you're a pescetarian)
1 scallion, chopped
lemon slices
+ crusty bread for mopping

One v. important step when it comes to preparing clams is to clean them. You want to wash the sand off the outside and then give them a good soak so that if there's any sand inside their shells, they'll open up in the water and the sand will fall out. Once you've got them sitting in a bowl of clean water, leave the clams be for at least 20 minutes and don't disturb / jostle / poke. If you move them, they'll get scared and they won't open up and if they don't open up, the sand will remain trapped inside. And honestly, the crunch of sand in food ranks up there as one of the top ten worst textures ever (along with fibrous mango and hard pudding skin).

While the clams are taking their bath, prep your salt pork, garlic, and onion. Use a knife to give the garlic a good whack so it's smashed really well. You want to expose lots of delicious garlicky surface area so the harder the whack, the better. Dice the onions; they should be on the smaller side but not too tiny. You want to be able to see a bit of the onion floating around in the dish.
Drop the salt pork, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes into a cold pan. I like cast iron but stainless steel is good too. Turn the heat on low to render the fat out of the pork. Once the pork starts to crisp up and you've got a decent amount of fat in the pan, add in the onions and jack up the heat to medium. Cook until the onions get lightly golden brown.
Deglaze the pan with a generous splash of white wine. Deglazing is one of the best cooking techniques ever. You've just spent a good amount of time, coaxing some yummy flavors out of a bunch of ingredients. The pan is holding onto a lot of that good flavor so you pour in some liquid which immediately steams up and helps release those yummy bits stuck to the pan. Isn't that genius?

Anyway, let's talk a little about the wine for a hot second. Most chefs opt for a dry white wine like Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio for cooking. Dry, crisp wines are definitely the norm. However, I think you should just use whatever white wine you've got hanging around. Gewürtztraminer? Sure! Riesling? Why not?! We didn't have any "normal" wines for cooking with so I actually used a sweet dessert wine, Moscato, and it was still awesomely delicious. I think any white wine that you personally find delicious will work because cooking it down just concentrates the flavor. Even if you had some leftover champs, that would probably be delicious too. The goal is to add a little acidity, a slightly fruity aroma, and just a depth of flavor that can only be created by wine.

With that said, if you're not into wine or you're underage so you can't get your grubby young hands on a bottle, substitute water, vegetable stock, and/or chicken stock. Since too much chicken stock would actually be quite salty (since it's getting cooked down and concentrated in a dish full of salty clams), I would water down the stock (1:1) and then use that to deglaze the pan; basically, just stir together 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup of stock.
Once the wine's in, squeeze in some lemon - I dropped in the squeezed & spent rind just for some added lemony goodness - and pour in the chicken stock. Lower the heat to a simmer and then slide in the rinsed and drained clams. Make sure the clams are in somewhat of an even layer and they're all taking a dip in the broth.
Pop a lid on the pan and let the clams steam for 10 to 12 minutes, just until they start to open up. The lid on my pan actually started to lift as the shells opened so I knew when these little cuties were ready.
While the clams are going, you can get a garnish ready. If I'd had some parsley, I might've chopped some up for a little color but I used some scallion instead; I think just a little greenery is necessary to brighten up the look and the flavor. I also grabbed a few lemon slices. A squeeze of fresh lemon will add lots of lovely brightness to seafood dishes, or to any dish, for that matter.
Because there's so much delicious clam-flavored "liquor" in the pot, you're going to want a way to eat it. Grab a loaf of delicious crusty bread. You will use the bread as a yummy sponge to sop it all up. Toasting the bread in a little butter and/or olive oil is optional but encouraged.
Grab a few more glasses of wine - I mean, you didn't use the whole bottle to make the clams so you've got leftovers, right? - and get ready to dig in.
I plopped the clams in the middle of the table alongside a bowl of farfalle with kale and capers, a big colorful salad with peppers and feta, and some grilled luganiga sausage. Sausage and seafood make a great combo. This was a super, fantastic, incredible meal. I mean, can you imagine sitting down to a supper like this on a Thursday evening? I picked Thursday because this meal was eaten on a Thursday and also because today is Thursday. And the best part is that it only took about half an hour to whip together.

The trick is to multitask and to sequence the tasks in the most efficient order. I started by soaking the clams and putting a pot of water on the stove to boil. I ran outside and tossed the sausage on the grill and picked some kale from my garden. I came back inside, washed and chopped the kale and got it in a pan with some oil, crushed red pepper flakes, and capers. I prepped the salt pork, garlic, and onions, and got the base of the broth for the clams going. I ran outside to flip the sausage. Then, I got the pasta cooking, deglazed the pan for the clams, added in the clams, and popped on the lid. I drained the pasta, tossed it with the kale, and dumped it into a serving bowl and got it on the table. I turned off the grill and grabbed the sausage. My sister assembled the salad while I sliced up some bread and toasted it in the same pan that the kale pasta had just been occupying. Last step was to garnish the clams and get everything on the table and then pour myself another glass of wine. Tada!
If you're trying to impress someone - maybe you have a hot date or you're hosting a party - these clams are definitely the way to go. And since it's summer, you can totally dine al fresco! Just remember to light some citronella candles to keep the mosquitos away.

The clams are flavorful and since they were cooked just until they opened up, they're lovely and tender. Overcooked clams are a shameful, wasteful thing. They take on a rubbery texture so it feels like you're chewing a balloon. But these guys are the opposite; they're so good, you'll want to cry. Oh, and I definitely recommend serving this alongside some pasta because it gives you another vessel for enjoying the broth. Spoon a little broth over your noodles and skip on up to heaven.

Clay-yums! (That's how I'd pronounce clam if I had a southern accent. Say it out loud a few times and you'll get it.)
Here's the recipe page:

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