One of the best things about cooking, in my opinion, is the awesome moment when you realize that something you thought was too tricky to pull off is actually super simple. It doesn’t happen all of the time, but when it does you feel like such a champion. For some silly reason–the fact that I only ate them in restaurants growing up? the intimidation factor of a closed shell?–I had always assumed that clams were too complicated for home cooking. So when I had the chance to watch my friend Cristina (a really fantastic cook and hostess) steam clams on her stovetop at a party this summer, I told her I was eager to watch and learn. She gave me a look and told me it was really easy, and I told her I still wanted to memorize every secret. She laughed at me very kindly, and went on to show me how ridiculously simple steamed clams actually are. Revelation!
Cristina steamed her clams really classically that day–just butter, garlic, and white wine. I like to add a base of chorizo, since I think it gives the clams such great spicy flavor, and makes for a more filling meal. I made this dish on January 1st, for Hal and my first dinner of the new year. We had lazed around for most of the day, having been out pretty late the night before for NYE, and it wasn’t until almost 7pm that I decided I would brave the cold and head to the grocery store, and make us something fun to welcome in 2015 (thank goodness for local stores that sell both clams and chorizo). And that’s part of the beauty of this recipe–it’s fast and simple enough for a day when you’re feeling a little…delicate, let’s say. But, it’s also special enough to be celebration food.
This recipe is really forgiving, with lots of room for flexibility. I mostly gave specifics, because lord knows I want to see specific amounts when I read a recipe, but when I’ve made this I’ve tended to be much less precise with amounts. A knob of butter, a smidge more or less wine depending on how much sauce I want (read: how much bread I want to eat), and as many clams as sound right. To illustrate, when I was shopping on January 1st, I had the following exchange with the seafood counter guy. Me: “How many clams would you recommend for two, if I’m just steaming them with chorizo?” Him: “I’d probably say 12. 18 if you’re really hungry, but…probably 12.” We looked at each other for a moment. Me: “Lets make it an even 20.” He might have been right, but I was right-er.
steamed clams with chorizo
3 links of chorizo, sliced into coins
3 tbs butter
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
a glass of dry white wine
clams for two (as mentioned above, amounts will vary…), rinsed and cleaned*
a handful of chopped fresh parsley
Add a glug of olive oil to a large pot (make sure to choose a pot with a lid), over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook til nicely brown. Add butter and garlic, and cook for just a few minutes until the garlic softens. Pour in the wine, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Add the clams, and put on the lid. Cook for 5-7 minutes, taking the lid off every few minutes to give the clams a quick stir and check on their progress. They should all be opened by 7 minutes–discard any that are still closed. Take pot off the heat, stir in the parsley, and serve. I like to have the clams and chorizo right out of the same pot they cooked in, with plenty of crusty bread on the side to soak up the delicious garlic-y wine-y sauce, but I think this would also be great over pasta.
* There are a lot of varied opinions out there about whether or not you need to also “purge” your clams before rinsing and then cooking them. The idea is that clams can be sandy, and soaking them for a time in water mixed with cornmeal or salt (or both) can help filter out the sand. A lot of sources will tell you that none of this is necessary if you’re buying farm-raised clams, because they aren’t really exposed to sand. Still, Cristina taught me to make clams by first soaking them for at least half an hour in a bowl full of cold water (enough to cover the clams) and about 1/4 cup of cornmeal, and so that’s what I do, in spite of piles of internet articles telling me there’s no point. If it ain’t broke!