I have more than a few unpopular opinions about food (sandwiches are just OK), but one that really gets people going is this: Clams are the best bivalves. There, I said it. Raw, they are milder, brinier and cleaner than an oyster. Steamed, they are juicier, meatier and less fishy than a mussel. They are perfect in every way.
To convince you that this is true, I suggest cooking clams in toasted garlic oil with a dry, acidic white wine (nothing you wouldn’t drink, please) and lots of thinly sliced celery, topped with tons of herbs and a squeeze of lemon. Smoked or spiced pork like chorizo, sausage or bacon could be added with the garlic if that’s your thing (it is absolutely my thing), but no pressure.
I like to set the pot on the table along with buttered toast or torn hunks of crusty bread for dipping and soaking up all the juices.
If the clams are especially large, I may go through the trouble of picking them from their shells, chopping them and adding them back to the broth, then spooning this mixture onto the toast, eating the whole thing in a civilized fashion with a knife and fork (alternatively, bare hands).
When selecting the clams for this purpose, smaller is better. The sweet spot for me is a clam roughly between the size of a large grape and small apricot. Littlenecks are the most popular and widely available, but if you have access to varieties like Manila (one of the smallest) or cockles (a small clamlike bivalve) then go for those, because they are sweet, mild and incredibly delicious.
CLAMS WITH CELERY AND TOASTED GARLIC
By Alison Roman
- 3-1/2 pounds relatively small littleneck or Manila clams (about 24 to 30 clams), well scrubbed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 ounces dried chorizo, bacon, pancetta or guanciale, chopped (optional)
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, plus another clove for serving
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (avoid anything overly oaky, sweet or “creamy”)
- 2 large stalks celery, trimmed and thinly sliced on the bias, plus leaves for serving
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup parsley, tender leaves and stems only
- 1/2 cup chopped chives
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon or lime zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
- Crusty bread or thick toast, for serving
Preferably using a natural bristle kitchen scrubber (a brand-new kitchen sponge will work as well), scrub clams well twice under running water. Let soak in a large bowl of cold water, letting any residual sediment or grit free itself from the shells and settle at the bottom of the bowl.
Meanwhile, heat oil, butter and chorizo, if using, in a large pot (make sure it has a lid) over medium. Cook, swirling pot occasionally, until butter has started to brown and fat has begun to render from the pork, 3 to 4 minutes. (The pork won’t be crispy, but that’s OK; you’re not looking for that.)
This steamed clam dish calls for a bone-dry, taut white wine that is as bracing and refreshing as a dunk in the ocean.
That leaves a lot of territory: Both France and Italy abound in these sorts of wines. Muscadet from the Atlantic end of the Loire is a natural choice, as is Etna Bianco, made of the carricante grape, from Sicily. Vermentino from Liguria or Corsica (where it is called vermentinu) would be delicious.
The sauvignon blanc wines of the Loire would likewise work well, if not too fruity or flamboyant. Chablis would be a slightly more elevated choice. For sherry lovers, it will not get much better than a good bottle of manzanilla.
— Eric Asimov, New York Times
Add garlic and cook, stirring a minute or two until it begins to turn toasty, light golden-brown. Add wine and cook, letting it simmer until halfway reduced, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add sliced celery stalks (reserve the leaves) and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until celery is bright green and just tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add clams and shake pot so they settle nicely. Place lid on pot and let clams steam open and release their juices, 3 to 5 minutes. (Larger clams will take longer.) Give the pot an occasional shake — this is not only fun to do, it gives all the clams quality time with the hottest part of the pot, which will encourage them to open around the same time. Any clam that won’t open was dead to begin with and should be thrown away.
Toss parsley, chives and celery leaves in a small bowl, then add lemon or lime zest and juice; season with more salt and pepper.
Serve clams with crusty fresh bread or thick slices of toast that have been drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, scattering the parsley mixture over everything. Serves 4.
Nutritional information unavailable.