Around this time of year I start getting nostalgic for summers in Massachusetts.
Well, certain aspects of summers in Massachusetts. I can do without the jam-packed subways every other day when there's a Red Sox home game. And how loud and obnoxious the restaurants and bars in Back Bay get when fans spill out of Fenway. Or basically anything team sports-related. But I do miss plenty. The gorgeous red glow of the Charles River at sunset. The 4th of July fireworks on the Esplanade. The beaches on the North Shore. And oh yes, the clams.
To say that New Englanders adore clams is an understatement. We have beach-side celebrations centered around big platters of steamed clams and other crustaceans drizzled with butter. We have an entire summer festival devoted to clam chowder, during which you taste many samples of hot chowder outdoors under an even hotter sun. And every town along the shore with a patch of beach has at least a handful of clam shacks serving up fried whole-belly clams with tartar sauce, on or off a hotdog bun, an only-in-New-England thing that's almost impossible find anywhere else.
As much as I've been craving a gigantic plate of fried clams with fries or onion rings or both, I also know something would get lost making it at home. Because, really, fried clams taste the best when you're finally sitting down for lunch after few hours on the beach, a little fried yourself, in a still-drying bathing suit and sandy flip-flops.
To satisfy my craving for clams, I turned to a sake-steamed clam recipe from Food & Wine. It uses smaller clams such as Manila clams and other cockles, and is a breeze to make after cleaning the clams. You simply steam it in a combination of sake and water for about 4 minutes, then (and this is where I get my New England-style clam fix) top with a few bits of butter. The original recipe called for an optional togarashi spice blend of cayenne pepper, sesame seeds, and seaweed, which I didn't have, so I improvised with cayenne, sesame seeds, and sesame oil. It came out very well, though I may try this with bits of nori next time.
Do you have any favorite ways or preparing clams, or want to share some favorite clam dishes you've tried?
Serves 4 as an appetizer or as part of a multi-course meal
- 2 pounds Manila clams, New Zealand clams, or cockles
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt or sea salt
- 1 cup sake
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 4 or 5 pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- Pick through the clams and discard any that are not tightly closed (or close when tapped gently on the counter) or have chipped shells. Fill a large bowl with cold water and stir in the salt. Add the clams and let stand for 1 hour. (This draws out sand from inside the shells.) Drain the clams and rinse them well. If the shells seem gritty, scrub the outsides gently with a clean brush.
- In a deep saucepan, combine the sake and water and bring to a boil. Add the clams, cover with a lid, and steam for about 4 minutes. Uncover and discard any clams that have not opened.
- Ladle the clams and broth into a large serving bowl. Scatter the butter pieces over the clams. Top off with the sesame oil, sesame seeds, cayenne, and scallions. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Food & Wine