Episode 66 – “Send in the Clams”

Posted: September 28, 2016 in Season 5
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Clams on the Half Shell with Fresh Mayonnaise

Once again, with this episode, my Good Eats project has led me to prepare a food item at home that I have never before prepared. This, to me, is the best part of this project, as I am learning to cook things I potentially would never have otherwise attempted. Clams, this time, were the subject of my exploration.

Though I have eaten other shellfish on the half shell (namely oysters), clams on the half shell were new to me. Really, this isn’t so much a recipe, but rather more of a method. Here’s a link to Alton’s recipe. All you really need for this preparation are fresh, live clams and a batch of Alton’s mayo, which I made previously. When eating raw clams, you want small clams (like littlenecks), as they are more tender than larger clams. When purchasing clams, you want to go to reputable seller and you want to purchase clams that are closed, very hard, and that sound like rocks when you tap them. My grocer had to special order littleneck clams for me and they seemed to be pretty fresh. Clams do sometimes open a little bit, even when they are alive, but they should close if you tap them; discard any clams that do not close when tapped. Also, it really is ideal to purchase clams the day you plan to serve them. Store them in your refrigerator before use in an open container that has been topped with a wet paper towel. When ready to serve your clams, dump them in a colander and give them a good rinse.

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Littleneck clams after being rinsed off.

Wipe off any additional grit in a clean tea towel. Next, set them in the freezer for 30 minutes before shucking, as this will make the process easier.

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Littlenecks, ready to be wiped dry in a tea towel before going in the freezer for 30 minutes.

To shuck, insert a butter knife into the groove at a “corner” of the shell, working the knife between the sides of the shell and prying it open.

Detach the meat from the shell by scraping it off of both sides of the shell with the knife, leaving the meat in the bottom side of the shell. Set your clams on a serving plate, topping each clam with some of Alton’s mayo.

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Not the greatest photo, but a shucked littleneck with Alton’s mayo.

My shells were really lopsided and toppled a bit, so setting them on a bed of greens may make a more attractive presentation. We ate our raw clams as an appetizer one evening, having just a handful or so each. When I eat raw shellfish, I prefer to have condiments, so I liked the addition of Alton’s mayo, which I love anyway. Since I’m a newbie to prepping raw shellfish, I get a little nervous when I am eating them at home, so I think I would have enjoyed raw clams more if I were eating them in a restaurant. Overall, I’ll say that we thought they were good, but not fantastic, and I don’t know that I’ll be jumping to prepare them again anytime soon.

Radonsky for the New Millennium 

For the second recipe in this episode, Alton used cherrystone clams, which are larger than littlenecks. I could not find cherrystone clams where I live, so I ended up using manila clams for this one.

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My manila clams.

As with the recipe above for clams on the half shell, you will want to shuck your clams, but for this preparation you will only want to detach the clam meat from one side of the shell. You will also want to discard the empty half of the shell from each clam.

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Shucked clams.

Mix together 1/4 C flour, 1/4 C breadcrumbs, 1 T freshly grated Parmesan, black pepper, and Kosher salt. Sprinkle the flour mixture liberallly over the shucked clams.

Melt 3 T bacon fat in a skillet over medium-high heat; we keep bacon fat in the refrigerator for occasions such as this.

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Bacon fat in the pan.

When the bacon fat has melted, fry the clams, shell side up, until they are golden brown and their shells have lightened in color.

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Clams frying in bacon fat.

Serve the clams with malt vinegar and parsley.

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My fried clams.

So, I really thought I would like these better than the clams on the half shell, but it turned out that we both found the clams to be too strong in flavor. I liked the crispy coating on the clams and the tang from the malt vinegar, but the clams I used were extremely briny in flavor and had a strong aftertaste that lingered. Perhaps this recipe would have been better with littlenecks? If I were to make this again, I would try it with littlenecks, or cherrystones if I could find them.

Clam Chowder

A clam episode would not be complete without a recipe for clam chowder. We always seem to eat more soup in the fall, so clam chowder seemed like a perfect thing to eat on a fall evening, though I am still clinging to the idea of summer. This recipe begins by rendering the fat from 3 ounces of salt pork or bacon over medium heat; I used Alton’s bacon that I made previously.

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Bacon fat rendering.

Once the fat is rendered, remove the meat pieces from the pan and save for another use. Add 1 1/2 C chopped onion to the pork fat and cook until translucent.

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Onion added to bacon fat.

Next, add 6 C of cubed russet potatoes, peeled (this is about 4 medium or 3 large russets). Add whole milk to the pan, just to cover the potatoes.

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Potatoes and whole milk added to pot.

Meanwhile, drain and reserve the juice from 14 ounces of canned clams, and chop the clam meat. You will want to have at least 1 C of clam juice; if you do not, add water to make 1 C of liquid.

Pour the clam juice into the bottom of a steamer and steam 12 clams over the clam juice, checking on them after 5 minutes.

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My clams, steaming over canned clam juice.

Remove the clams as soon as they open, as they will become tough if overcooked. Save the steaming liquid!

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Steamed clams.

When the clams are steamed, use an immersion blender to blend the potato mixture to your desired consistency – I left some lumps in mine.

To your blended soup, add ~1/2 of the steaming liquid and taste it. Alton cautioned that the steaming liquid can be quite salty, so you want to add it gradually. I wound up adding all of my steaming liquid, as it did not make my soup overly salty. Fold in your chopped canned clam meat.

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Canned clams and steaming liquid added to soup.

Top the soup with black pepper, sour cream, parsley, and grape tomatoes, and serve with steamed clams on the side.

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Clam chowder with parsley, pepper, tomatoes, sour cream, and steamed clams.

We both thought this chowder was great. It had lots of clam flavor and pieces, along with plenty of potatoes. Ted even declared this one of the best clam chowders he has had. I don’t know if serving the steamed clams on the side is even necessary, though it does make for a nice presentation. I was not sure about serving the soup with sour cream and tomatoes, but I actually quite liked the garnishes. I will make this one again. It makes for an easy weeknight meal.

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