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Astonishingly Flavorful Shellfish Dishes

Steamed Mussels, Clam Chowders

Posted: June 6, 2012 - 9:20am
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Before steaming clams or mussels for dishes such as Manhattan Clam Chowder (upper right), or Mussels and Clams Steamed in Wine, Butter and Garlic (lower right), be sure to discard any clams or mussels with broken, cracked or damaged shells.
Before steaming clams or mussels for dishes such as Manhattan Clam Chowder (upper right), or Mussels and Clams Steamed in Wine, Butter and Garlic (lower right), be sure to discard any clams or mussels with broken, cracked or damaged shells.

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 kitchenade@yahoo.com.

Mussels and Clams Steamed in Wine, Butter and Garlic

3 dozen mussels
    (cleaning instructions follow)
3 dozen littleneck clams
    (cleaning instructions follow)
1/2 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped parsley, divided
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Crusty French bread, for serving

In a large kettle, over medium heat, melt butter. Add garlic and shallots and saute until soft, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add wine, lemon juice, half of the parsley and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add mussels and clams and cook, covered, about 10 minutes (shaking pot frequently), or until shells open and mussels are cooked. (Unlike clams, which are completely cooked when their shells open, mussel shells will open before the mussels are fully  cooked.) Discard any clams or mussels that do not open, then transfer clams and mussels, with cooking liquid, to a large shallow serving dish, sprinkling remaining parsley over all. Serve with crusty bread. Serves 3 to 4 as a main course, or 6, as an appetizer.


To clean mussels and clams
Throw away any mussels or clams with broken, cracked or damaged shells. Discard those mussels or clams that are not tightly closed. With a stiff brush, scrub shells well. (If necessary, scrape off barnacles and pull off the "beards" from the mussels.) In separate bowls, soak mussels and clams in cold water, for 1 hour, then drain in colander, rinsing well. It is important to thoroughly clean your mussels and clams, or you could end up with sand in your finished dish.

Summer Clam Pot

Recipe and photograph courtesy Whole Foods Market: Natural and Organic Grocery (www.wholefoods.com)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 pound kielbasa, sliced into 1-inch rounds
1 1/2 pounds baby Yukon gold potatoes, halved
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
2 pounds steamer clams, soaked in ice water with a handful of flour or cornmeal, then rinsed well
1 large lemon, quartered

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over high heat. Add sliced onion and cook until it starts to brown, stirring frequently, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant. Add potatoes, kielbasa, wine, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover pot with a tight-fitting lid, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are just barely tender, about 20 minutes. Add mussels and clams, toss to combine, cover pot and cook, shaking pot occasionally, until clams and mussels have opened, 12 to 15 minutes more. Discard any mussels or clams with unopened shells. Transfer onions, potatoes, sausage and seafood to serving bowls with the cooking liquid. Serve with lemon quarters. Serves 4 to 6

Manhattan Clam Chowder

2 dozen fresh little neck or cherrystone clams, scrubbed well
2 (8-ounce) bottles all-natural clam juice
1 quart water
2 all-purpose potatoes (about 2 cups), peeled and diced
4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 medium or 1 small green pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, with leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced, plus more for garnishing
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped, juice reserved
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 (10-ounce) can whole clams, with juice
Dash Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper taste

Soak fresh clams in cold water for 1 hour. Drain and rinse clams. Place clams in a large saucepot and cover  with bottled clam juice and one quart of water. Heat to boiling. Cover pot and reduce heat, simmering until clams have opened, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove clams to a large bowl, cool slightly, then remove clams from their shells and coarsely chop clams, catching and straining all liquid that comes from the clams. Set clams and clam juice aside and discard clam shells. Strain clam juice from saucepot, twice, reserving liquid. Cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water for three minutes, then drain. Set aside. Fry bacon in heavy soup pot until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of grease from soup pot, add onion, and over medium heat, cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add carrots, green pepper and celery and saute for 3 to 4 minutes. Add parsley, tomatoes  and dried thyme leaves. Add reserved clam liquid, reserved juice from canned tomatoes and Tabasco. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add potatoes, chopped clams and canned clams and continue to cook, covered, until potatoes are tender. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper, adding reserved bacon. (Save some bacon for garnishing, if desired.) Sprinkle with parsley. Serves 6

New England Clam Chowda

Recipe and photograph courtesy "Caseus Fromagerie Bistro Cookbook:
Every Cheese Has a Story," by Jason Sobocinski; Lyons Press (an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, www.globepequot.com), publishers. Photos by Mike Toth

40 or so littleneck or topneck clams, or 1 quart canned chopped clams
1/2 pound slab bacon
2 medium white onions
2 small shallots
3 cloves garlic
5 good, clean celery stalks, leaves on
1 carrot
2 large russet potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch dice; leave the peels on for more flavor!
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam broth
3 cups whole milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cream
Beltane Farm's Herbes de Provence chevre log; if you can't find this then roll a plain log of good chevre in Herbs de Provence and now you've got it!
1 bunch fresh chives
1/4 cup Pedro Ximenez sherry

Scrub the clams, discarding any that are not tightly closed. Bring a few quarts of water up to a hard boil in a deep stock pot. Add the cleaned clams and cover. Stir them once and keep an eye on them so that they cook until just opened. Remove the clams from the pot and shuck and chop them coarsely; if any are unopened then they are sadly destined for the trash. Set them aside in a bowl for later.
Run the water from the pot through a sieve with cheesecloth to get rid of any leftover sand, and hold the stock in a small bowl for later. In another large pot, add the bacon, cut into nice lardons, and begin to render off the fat. Once some fat has come out and it has gotten nicely crisp and brown, add the onions, shallots, garlic, celery and carrot, all coarsely diced. Allow to cook until nicely soft but not mushy. Add the potatoes, reserved clam stock, clam broth, and milk. Let simmer very gently for about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the cream and the clams and stir to incorporate. DO NOT BOIL! Just gently heat through and taste for seasoning. The less time the chopped clams sit in the hot soup, the better, as they can get tough. If you plan on serving this chowda the next day (I suggest it), let the base cool down slightly, then add the cream and clams and let cool completely before refrigerating overnight. When you are ready to serve, heat the soup slowly and gently on the stove. Garnish each bowl with a nice medallion slice of the Beltane Herbes de Provence chevre, some fresh chopped chives, and a splash of sherry. Feeds 8 to 10.

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