Look. Shellfish are ugly. Sometimes they have weird things hanging off their shells, and more often than not, they look like genitalia or snot. But here’s the thing I didn’t know until this year: THEY ARE DELICIOUS AND ARE ALMOST ALWAYS SERVED IN A SAUCE MADE OUT OF MELTED BUTTER.
In October, Sue and I went to Seattle to eat. During the trip, I learned the following:
1. Clams, even though they’re so ugly and weird looking with ridiculous valves and things that they really require that you not look directly at them as you lift them to your lips, are sweet little morsels of delight.
2. Oysters, which are most often advertised by aggressive seafood eaters as being “briny”, (Really, everyone I’ve ever met? Briny? Think up a selling point that doesn’t remind me of all the worst parts of going to the beach) are actually quite lovely, and I even chewed mine, which apparently is not best practice for eating oysters.
3. Mussels, despite looking quite obviously like tiny vaginas, are tender and sweet and are served with french fries a lot.
Last week, I saw a recipe in Food & Wine for mussels in white wine, and figured “forget my lifelong promise to myself not to cook seafood at home thanks to that time I was a kid and my mom made salmon and it made the whole house smell like fish for 17 days, I’m gonna cook mussels at home!” Except then, when I went to the store, I realized that mussels have to be de-bearded and that felt too scary so I bought clams instead.
Clams with White Beans and Wine
2 lb fresh Manila clams
6 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tbsp butter, divided
1 tsp bacon fat, from the jar I sincerely hope you keep in your fridge
4 tbsp olive oil
1 cup or so white wine, I used a white Bordeaux, because Sue taught me that I like “non-traditional grape varietals”
2 cans white Northern beans, drained and rinsed well
red pepper flakes
a lot of chopped flat leaf parsley
salt and pepper
Method: Clams are sandy. To clean clams, you put them in a big bowl of salted cool water for 20 minutes to an hour before cooking, which makes them spit out all the sand. Apparently, you can also put black pepper, flour or corn meal in the water to help them expel the sand. I put in salt and pepper only. When they’re done soaking, fish them out with a spoon and put them in a colander, scrubbing them thoroughly to remove the sand from the outside of the shells.
Melt 2 tbsp of butter, the bacon fat and the olive oil in a large, shallow pan with sides and a fitted lid, on medium-low heat. Toss in the garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and let it cook for maybe 4 or 5 minutes, moving it around frequently so it doesn’t burn. Burnt garlic is almost as gross as that feeling when you realize the cute boy you’re talking to is a Republican.
After the 4-5 minutes, put in the beans and cook everything together for 5 minutes or so.
Then, pour in the wine and let it simmer for 5 more minutes. Put in the clams and the remaining 2 tbsp of butter, stir it around a bit and put the lid on the pan for 5 minutes, shaking the pan a couple times to move things around.
Take the lid off, stir everything around, remove any clams that haven’t opened (because they were dead already, I think, is the reason that you don’t want to eat them, but that fact reminds me that I just cooked alive creatures in butter and wine and that’s jarring), put in the chopped parsley and serve with the bread.
This was so easy and so delicious I feel like a chump for every time I’ve been impressed by a dish like this in a restaurant. Clams are fantastic, and butter, wine and garlic make for a no-lose situation. Also, this entire process took less than 30 minutes. I’ve always felt that shellfish are very high maintenance, which I suppose they are in terms of cleaning and de-bearding and de-icing or whatever else, but cooking them was fast and almost foolproof. I think next time I make this, which based on how good this was might be tomorrow, I’ll put chorizo in it.