It’s hard to make a clam taste bad. The bivalves, which come in many varieties, have so much inherent flavour that all the cook has to do is enhance it – and not overcook the meat, which makes it rubbery.
It used to be that you’d have to soak clams in salted water with a little cornmeal, which would make them spit out any sand they had ingested. I no longer bother with this because I can’t remember the last time I ate a gritty clam, but if you don’t know where the clams came from, or if you harvested them yourself in the wild, it’s wise to let them purge.
Clams with garlic, chillies and Thai sweet basil
1kg fresh clams, with shells about 3cm long
4 garlic cloves
2-4 red bird’s-eye chillies
2 red banana chillies
20ml Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce, or to taste
10 grams oyster sauce, or to taste
2 tsp granulated sugar, or to taste
A large handful of Thai sweet basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
About 20ml cooking oil
Rinse the clams under cool running water, then drain in a colander. Thinly slice the garlic. Cut the bird’s-eye chillies in half lengthwise and scrape out and discard the seeds. Slice the chillies about 3mm thick. Slice the banana chillies on the diagonal into 5mm-thick pieces. In a bowl, combine the fish sauce, oyster sauce and sugar, and stir thoroughly.
Heat 20ml of cooking oil in a wok placed over a high flame. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and both types of chillies. Stir fry for about 30 seconds, then add the clams. Add the fish sauce mixture, stir well and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover the wok with the lid and simmer for a few minutes, stirring often. Cook until most of the clams open, then taste the sauce and correct the seasonings, as necessary. Add some black pepper and the Thai sweet basil. Stir until the basil wilts, then serve immediately with steamed white rice. Serves four to six as part of a Thai meal.
If you don’t eat all these clams in one meal, make the leftovers into a quick and easy pasta dish. Take the cooked clam meat from the shells and put the pieces in the sauce before refrigerating for no more than a couple of days. Boil some spaghetti (enough for the leftover clams, counting on 100 grams of pasta per person) in salted water, and when the pasta is al dente, ladle off about 100ml of the cooking water. Put the spaghetti in a skillet and mix in the clams, clam sauce and about half the pasta water. Simmer until the pasta is lightly coated with the sauce. If it seems dry, add a little more pasta water. Adjust the seasonings as necessary, then serve.
Sautéed bamboo clams with spinach
Bamboo clams are also known as razor clams. Because this dish is so fast and easy, it’s great for a weeknight dinner for two – just buy the clams on your way home from work, and have the vendor clean them for you.
If you prefer, use fresh arugula (also called rucola or rocket) leaves, instead of baby spinach. You can also serve this over cooked couscous, instead of with crusty bread.
10-12 bamboo clams, each about 8cm long, cleaned
1 large garlic clove
1 large shallot
About 50 grams unsalted butter
A pinch of piment d’Espelette (or another type of chilli powder)
60ml dry white wine
About 60 grams raw baby spinach leaves, rinsed
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Warm, crusty bread, for serving
Cut each bamboo clam into three pieces. Thinly slice the garlic and shallot.
Heat the butter in a skillet placed over a low flame. When the butter melts, add the garlic and shallot and cook until soft, stirring often. Turn the flame to high and add the clams, the piment d’Espelette and a little salt. Cook until the clam pieces start to turn opaque, then stir in the white wine. Simmer over a high flame until the clams are fully cooked, stirring often. Taste the sauce and add some salt, if needed. Turn off the flame, then add the spinach leaves and stir until they wilt. Mix in some black pepper, then divide the clams, spinach and all the buttery juices between two plates. Serve immediately with warm bread.