bacon + bourbon clams

Probably my most frequent I feel like being fancy or celebratory but don’t want to actually go out meal is clams and chorizo. I often make it for me and Hal on Friday nights when we want to toast the end of the week but the week itself has been too busy to make leaving the house at all appealing, and it’s also one of my faves for low key hostessing–especially with the addition of bucatini, to stretch it into a pasta. I probably make it at least once a month, and I love it every time. It’s especially a favorite in the summer, when I serve it with a quick saute of halved cherry tomatoes and corn cut from the cob, with a handful of torn basil wilted in at the end. So when I found a recipe on the wonderful Food52 for a one pot clam dish that subbed in bacon for chorizo and bourbon for white wine, and went ahead and tossed the corn and tomatoes right in, I had to try it. Variety is the spice of life, after all, and if that spice tastes like bourbon and bacon then so much the better.
This recipe is almost as easy as my old faithful, but there is a touch more prep: mostly ahead of time chopping. You need a really terrific amount of thick cut bacon chopped into lardons, piles of cherry tomatoes, and several ears of corn with the kernels sliced off. The dish moves quickly from step to step, so you’ll want to have everything ready to go. Bacon is browned (and you don’t drain off any of the fat! I had my doubts but went with it, and was rewarded), paprika is sprinkled in for spice, and then the corn and tomatoes are added and given a few minutes to soften. Lemon juice and bourbon are stirred in, the clams are arranged in a very elegant fashion–I’ve always just plopped mine in, so this precision tickled me–and you cover the pan to give the clams time to steam open. Add a sprinkling of basil and you’ve got a wonderfully smokey and sweet one pot dinner.As eager as I was to try this recipe, I also had some doubts. Would I wish I had just went ahead and made my more traditional clams? But happily there was a moment early on that totally won me over. You’re meant to stir a tablespoon of smoked paprika into the bacon (and allllll that bacon fat) and let it cook for about thirty seconds before adding in the corn. At right about that thirty second mark the smell was so intensely awesome that I said “WHOA” out loud standing over the stove. Always a strong sign of dinner success. The corn and tomatoes absorb all of that bacon+paprika flavor perfectly, and the bourbon and lemon juice combine with the clams to make a really fantastic broth. This recipe won’t totally replace my beloved usual, but it’s a welcome and seriously tasty variation.
A note about serving size–the original recipe is for 4, but knowing how much clams and chorizo Hal and I can take down together, I changed things up a bit to suit our table for two. I dropped the amount of corn down from six ears to five–I wanted a veggie heavy meal, but three ears of corn per person was a smidge too too–and I also upped the amount of cherry tomatoes. The original calls for a 1/2 pound of sungold yellow cherry tomatoes, and I opted for 2 pints of standard red cherry tomatoes. All of our clams quickly disappeared, but we did have some of the tasty corn/tomato/bacon mix left over. I think you could easily size up or down depending on how many folks you want to feed…and how hungry they are.
steamed clams with corn, tomatoes, bacon and bourbon
adapted slightly from Food52

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, cut into lardons
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
5 ears corn, shucked and cut from the cobs 
salt, to taste
2 pints red cherry tomatoes, halved
half a lemon
3 tablespoons bourbon
16 littleneck clams, scrubbed well
small handful basil leaves, torn
bread for serving

Place a large, deep heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil and bacon, and cook until the fat is rendered and the lardons are browned.

Stir in the paprika and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the corn, season with salt, and stir, cooking for about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cover. Cook until the tomatoes soften, about 5-10 minutes.

Squeeze in the juice from the lemon and pour in the bourbon, stir, and turn off the heat.

Add the clams with the mouth facing up. Turn on the heat to medium, cover the pot, and cook the until the clams open, 7 to 10 minutes.

As the clams are cooking, grill or toast the bread.

Remove the pot from the heat, sprinkle with basil. Serve with bread, straight from the pot!

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