Clam linguine is one of those dishes that I love but am extremely fussy about. Hang on, isn’t that every dish? I digress… I won’t order it out unless I am absolutely certain that the restaurant is reliable and uses fresh clams (fresh = very fresh) and not tinned or jarred clams.
Now, I have had many a “discussion” with friends about this. They think I am a snob, but, hey, clams come in a shell, so why not eat them that way? With seafood generally, the fresher the better, that fresh sea taste, like the salt air, and none of the fishiness that arrives when the fish are out of the water too long.
I really struggle with anything that isn’t extremely fresh, and although I hate to admit it, I really can’t stomach alot of tinned fish. For this reason, I always go to good fishmongers when I can, like in Borough Market or Steve Hatts on Essex Rd in Islington.
I distinctly remember the first time that I had clams. I had been eating mussels for some time but was a bit squeamish about other unknown shellfish. On holiday in Croatia, whilst island hopping and on a visit to a gorgeous island called Vis, we had the most lovely seafood experiences. Fabulous fresh seafood and lots that I hadn’t tried before. Fish there is sold as either white fish or blue fish, white fish being the deep water fish like hake or pollock, whereas the blue fish swim closer to the surface and are a bit cheaper, like mackerel. When you arrive at most restaurants they bring a platter of fresh fish and you choose which one you want them to cook for you and pay by the weight.
We ate in one restaurant there, as we had started talking to someone across the road from it when I noticed a fisherman nearby gutting a large white fish, it turned out that his daughter owned the restuarant and this very fish was destined for the pot, immediately after gutting. How could I resist? It was delicious, a leerfish barbecued over hot coals, with oil brushed on it using herbs as a brush.
It was another lovely local restaurant down the road where I had the clams, larger than palourde and full of meat as they were wild not farmed, they were cooked simply in tomatoes and wine and served with crusty bread, still the best way to eat them in my mind.
Back to the linguine. Clams are a little high maintenance, although this is balanced by how quickly they cook. Before using, soak in several changes of cold water for 5 minutes at a time, so that the clams release any sand contained within the shell. Then scrub the outside shell, they’re usually pretty clean, you just want to get rid of any excess grit that may affect your lovely pasta dish. This really is worth the time and effort.
I treat my clam linguine simply, like the clam dish mentioned above. Some shallots and garlic, sautéed in olive oil, followed by diced, peeled & seeded tomatoes, then some white wine and the clams, stewed with the lid on until the clams open, and finally some lemon to lift the flavour and some parsely to finish.
On this occasion, I got some palourde (or carpetshell) clams from Borough Market. You can get clams at any good fishmonger, and I’d recommend that you treat yourself to some.
Some notes on the recipe:
- I like this dish fruity so I use alot of tomatoes, feel free to decrease if you don’t feel the same. Alot of recipes use more clams and less tomatoes, you could do this here too and easily increase the amount of clams (up to double) and at the end remove some of the meat from the shells so that you are not fighting with the shells while eating.
- To peel the tomatoes, score a small cross at the bottom, barely piercing the skin and cover with boiling water for 15-30 seconds or so, as soon as you see the skin start to peel back.
- You’ll need a dish with a tight fitting lid for the clams.
This dish, as always serves two or one hungry person. I was hungry tonight :-) The recipe follows.
200g palourde/carpetshell clams, washed and scrubbed as above
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
a handful of fresh flatleaf parsley, chopped
a small glass of white wine
the juice of half a lemon
a knob of butter (10g or so)
Sauté the shallot and over a medium heat in some olive oil until transparent but not brown. Add the garlic for 30 seconds or so, stirring and taking care not to burn it.
Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes or so.
Cook the linguine according to packet instructions, if you start now, they should be finished together.
Add the white wine, and cook for a few minutes until it’s reduced in volume by a half or so.
Add the clams and put the lid on the pan. Wait for 5 minutes or so, and check, most should be open by now but if they’re not, give them another couple of minutes.
Once most of the clams are open, discard any that remain closed (this is really important).
Add the butter and allow it to melt, then add the parsley. Add the lemon juice to taste, taking care not to add too much, you want it to complement not dominate.
Add a couple of tablespoons of water from the linguine pot, your sauce will have reduced considerably by now.
Season, and serve immediately