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Taste Portugal: A Day on the Algarve Clam Digging & Cooking with Heinz Beck [Part 1: How to Catch a Razor Clam & Visiting an Oyster Farm]

I have a terrible life, I know. Last Tuesday, my last day in Portugal on a trip to explore the food and drink (as a guest of Taste Portugal), we finished with a terrific day clam digging and cooking with 3* German but Rome based chef, Heinz Beck. Heinz also has a restaurant in the Algarve at the Conrad, you see, and while he is not based there he visits regularly and spends a lot of time in the kitchen.

Despite growing up on the sea, clam digging was entirely new to me, and it was fascinating. Even if we didn’t get that many, as the sea was too choppy and the clams were all buried away. We dragged a few out of their hidey holes though, and I can tell you how to do it.

To catch a razor clam, and yes, catch it you do, find a keyhole shaped hole in the sand in an area where the clams live. In the Algarve we went by boat to a sand bed that is covered by the tide when it is high. The clam holes are not particularly large, less than a centimetre, but do look like a keyhole or figure of 8. Sprinkle quite a bit of salt on it, covering it, and if there is a razor clam in residence you will soon know, as the salt drives them to the surface with speed. You will notice a frothing where the salt is, add more on, and soon you will see the razor clam peep out. It will eventually jump and then you grab it, and put it in your basket. Job done. Well, for one clam anyway, you will need a lot more.

You can also use a little spear to catch the clams, poking them into the hole, with the intention of not actually spearing the clam as you want it alive, but getting it to latch on to it. Wire mesh or wicker baskets are used to collect the clams, so that you can wash your catch by dipping it in and out of the water when you are done. You will occasionally catch a worm (don’t grab that, and prepare for a fright, they are pretty speedy and lashy). For best results, use fine sea salt for holes in the sand and coarse sea salt for holes in the water (like in a shallow pool). For smaller clams, we used a triangular shaped spade and dug up portions of sand, plucking out the clams as we did, this was much more successful.

On the way back, we stopped at a small oyster farm, Aquaprime Oysters, and indulged. Large salt sweet oysters greeted us, plucked straight from their bed. We had some light Douro sparkling to accompany, that the oyster farmers make themselves. At this point I actually fell over in the boat, such was my enthusiasm, but thankfully no harm done. I landed in the boat, saved my camera, and apart from a few bruises, all was ok. I have long ago given up on worrying about what people think of my frequent accidents, I am ridiculously clumsy.[Read more]

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A Postcard from Lisbon

Lisbon

Lisbon

And now, Lisbon.

Lisbon grabbed me by surprise. I have been here before and knew I liked it but Lisbon is a city that I could now see myself spending a lot more time in. In fact, I am fantasising about moving here for a bit to write my next book.

People are so helpful and friendly (in the main), it is affordable, the food and wine is delicious (once you steer clear of the tourist track), and it is on the sea. The architecture is beautiful with pretty buildings coated in colourful tiles dotted throughout. It is also possible to stay in really lovely places without blowing the budget.

I have lots of recommendations for you, the first being put Lisbon at the top of your list. Then come here for a prego (Portuguese steak sandwich), wonderful seafood, those swoonsome pasteis de nata (especially the original secret recipes ones from Beleim) and the wine, for lots of the delicious and very affordable wine.

A full detailed and printable list of recommendations will be appearing here soon, for now some photos, as is the tradition.

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Suckling pig sandwich and piri piri oil at Pombalina, Lisbon

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Wrapped tinned sardines at Conserveira de Lisboa

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Manuel at Pombalina with one of the three suckling pigs that they sell in sandwiches every day

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Love this! The bottom one means accountant (uh huh!)

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Clams with garlic at Cervejaria Ramiro, Lisbon

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Prego (Portuguese steak sandwich) at Cervejaria Ramiro, Lisbon

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Pasteis de Nata and a coffee at Confeteria Nacionale

Pasteis de Nata and a coffee at Confeteria Nacionale