I love this dish so much, which says a lot seeing as how it’s not only lacking in dairy but also (potentially) wheat, two ingredients that its competitor, New England clam chowder, generally cannot live without. Eating it feels like, for a second, you’ve been transported to a sun-drenched Portuguese villa, where your biggest problem involves figuring out how to propel yourself to the fridge for the next generous pour of rose (instead of being in Vancouver, where your biggest problem is figuring out how the rest of the world could possibly be short on water when all it does here is RAIN ALWAYS). Oops, I wasn’t planning on letting any of my weather-related cynicism sneak onto the blog, but I guess we all make promises we can’t keep (like you did, Vancouver, when you flashed that sunny sky this morning and then yanked it away again).
Part of the perfection of this recipe comes from the addition of fresh clams (yes, as in alive clams). This may seem like a daunting thing to cook, because let’s face it, it does require you to make something go from living to dead (albeit in a more humane way than most of your meat is probably afforded), and of course because of the all-encompassing fear of creating a situation where you accidentally poison the shit out of yourself (quite literally). A few tips that may come in handy to avoid the latter situation are as follows:
· Buy your clams from a reputable source, such as a good seafood shop or fishmonger (not the one you always walk by that forces you to sharply inhale and not release your breath until well out of the stink radius).
· Try to buy your clams no more than a day ahead of using them.
· Store your clams in a bucket or deep bowl (hopefully you received a tub or similar vessel upon purchase) in the coldest part of your fridge, with a damp towel draped loosely over the clams. Some places will give you an open bag of clams set inside a larger, ice-filled bag, which also works.
· Do not eat any clams that are open when raw (you can give them a sharp tap and see if they close up, but if they stay open, chuck ‘em).
· Do not eat any clams that are closed when cooked (all the clams should open up after being steamed for a suitable time period – those that resist the urge to do so should be tossed).
· Just chill out a little bit, okay? Have some wine, it’ll do you good.
Manhattan(ish) Clam Stew
Serves 2 as dinner or 4 as a starter
3 tbsp olive oil + extra for drizzling
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large shallot, diced
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tbsp tomato paste
½ cup dry white wine
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
2 lb fresh clams
1 small (~75 gr) chorizo sausage, diced (make sure the chorizo is not too cured or firm – you don’t want it to dry out too much during cooking)
¼ - ½ cup chicken broth (optional)
Chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, to garnish
Crusty bread (preferably brushed with olive oil and grilled!), to serve
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Toss in the onion and shallot, then sauté until translucent and lightly golden (~5-7 minutes), seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the sliced garlic and sauté for another minute without letting the garlic take on too much colour. Stir in the tomato paste and turn the heat up to medium-high, cooking until the tomato paste has melted into the onions, and things are sticky and fragrant (~2-3 minutes). Pour in the wine and reduce until the liquid is nearly gone (but not completely evaporated!), stirring to scrape up any lovely golden bits from the bottom of the pot. The mixture should look thick and smell richly savoury.
Use your hands to gently squish the tomatoes into the pot (try to avoid blinding yourself with a rogue tomato seed), pouring in the juices as well. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until thick and saucy, at least 10 minutes. If your mixture looks too thick, pour in ¼ - ½ cup chicken stock. I find that good-quality Italian canned tomatoes have thicker juices, while the supermarket ones have thinner juices, so the type of tomatoes you used may dictate how much (and if) you need broth. Keep in mind that the clams will also release their own “liqueur” into the sauce, which will further thin things out. Gently nestle the clams into the sauce as best you can, then cover and cook for ~8-10 minutes, or until the shells have opened up. While the clams cook, place the diced chorizo in a small pan set over medium heat. Let the chorizo fry up in its own fat, until sizzling and lightly golden, ~5-10 minutes. Set aside. Once the clams are done, discard any errant ones that haven’t opened. Taste the stew and season as needed with salt and pepper.
Spoon the clams into deep, shallow bowls and ladle the tomato-y stew over top. Divide the fried chorizo pieces among the bowls. Finely grate the zest of the lemon and use to garnish the clams. If desired, cut up the lemon and give each bowl a small squeeze of juice. Sprinkle the parsley over top along with a fine drizzle of good olive oil. You just made a work of art, right? You are an ARTIST.