With minimal effort, it's really astonishing how much flavor can be coaxed out of something as intimidating looking as a mollusk. Belonging to the second largest group of mollusks, clams and mussels can be flavorfully cooked in a variety of ways, including by steaming. When mussels and clams are steamed in a small amount of liquid, such as water or wine, the very essence of the shellfish remains in the rich broth that is left behind in the steaming pot. Classic dishes like Manhattan Clam Chowder, or Moules Mariniere (mussels steamed in wine), make brilliant use of this broth, where nothing goes to waste and every drop of cooking liquid is consumed with a spoon, or sopped up with a hunk of crusty French bread. Both of these recipes are offered here, including one for "Summer Clam Pot," from our friends at Whole Foods Market: Natural and Organic Grocery" and another for "New England Clam Chowda," from Jason Sobocinski's "Caseus Fromagerie Bistro Cookbook: Every Cheese Has a Story" -- a recipe Sobocinski says "is made for the Fourth of July." Before making these dishes, or using recipes that include fresh mussels and clams, there are just a few safeguards that should be kept in mind, however. First, be sure to discard mussels and clams that have cracked or broken shells. Nest, throw out mussels or clams that are not tightly closed, or do not close when lightly tapped -- they are likely dead. And, lastly, if you don't plan to cook your shellfish as soon as you get home, unwrap them and place them in a dry bowl in the refrigerator. Mussels and clams need to breathe, or they could die before you've had a chance to cook them.
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.