This Past Week at La Domestique: Clams

Clams (c)2011

This past week at La Domestique was devoted to clams. Nothing beats fresh, sustainable seafood in the heat of summer. Clams combine beautifully with the produce in season right now: corn, chiles, tomatoes, fennel, etc. The recipes featured were summer cooking at its best- quick, simple, with beautiful flavor.

In case you missed anything, I’ve got a recap for you!

Monday:  Announcing clams as the ingredient of the week in videocast.

Tuesday:  10 Ways Tuesday! Creative ideas for cooking with clams during summer.

Wednesday:  Cook in the moment with a recipe for Clams in Fennel Broth.

Thursday:  The story behind clams: varieties, habitat, buying & storing, cooking & flavor pairing.

Friday:  A Spanish inspired happy hour with clams, crinkled potatoes, chorizo, and Albariño wine.

Thanks so much for reading!


A Spanish Inspired Happy Hour

Spanish Inspired Happy Hour (c)2011

Spanish Inspired Happy Hour (c)2011

My all time favorite episode of No Reservations is the one where Anthony Bourdain visits Spain in Season 4. During the trip he declares, “Outside of Asia, Spain is the single greatest place for culinary achievement in the world.” He made this statement after eating Spanish canned seafood. That’s right- shellfish from a can, people.

I love it. I find the idea of peeling open a can and enjoying a beautifully preserved clam very romantic. For me, it’s a simple pleasure. Nothing fussy. You don’t even need proper silverware. A toothpick will do the trick. Isn’t there saying about elegance being found in simplicity?

For the Spain episode Anthony visits Villa Sal de Mar, a seaside village about thirty minutes north of Barcelona. It is here that he finds some of the most expensive and delicious seafood in Spain- canned. The idea is that seafood only gets better in the can, marinating in its own marine juices. Great care is taken to make a very special product. You can find razor clams, cockles, octopus, tuna, and more treated this way and available in the United States. One brand I’ve had success with is Conservas de Cambados, made in Galicia, Spain. Don’t be afraid to experiment and give a few different producers a try. It’s surprising what you can find in local specialty shops. In the Denver area, I pick up Spanish canned seafood at the Truffle Cheese Shop.

To wrap up clam week I thought we should enjoy a Spanish happy hour with canned clams. The sweet, briny bivalves need only a squeeze of lemon and they are perfect for these last hot days of summer.In keeping with the Spanish influence, I cooked the recipe for Wrinkled Potatoes Canary Island Style from José Andrés’ Made in Spain. For this traditional dish baby waxy potatoes are boiled in heavily salted water. Once tender the water is poured off and the potatoes are finished over high heat in the dry pan. This causes them to wrinkle and the salt crystallizes on the potato skins. It’s one of those amazing, why don’t I make this every single day recipes. Wrinkled potatoes are served with Mojo Rojo, a red pepper sauce for dipping. This sauce is easily made from pantry ingredients. Garlic, sea salt, cumin seeds, pimentón, and dried chile pepper are pounded into a paste using a mortar and pestle. Spanish extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar are poured in to make a sauce. The sweet, smoky, exotic flavor is amazing with the wrinkled potatoes. To round out the menu I chose a chorizo style sausage from Denver salumi makers, Il Mondo Vecchio. Their dry cured Portuguese Longanzia is sweet and smokey. Pork and clams always get along well.

Wrinkled Potatoes Canary Island Style (c)2011

Wrinkled Potatoes Canary Island Style (c)2011

In order for happy hour to be happy, there must be wine. With the help of Chris from my neighborhood shop, Superior Liquor, I chose a Spanish bottle made from the Albariño grape. Valmiñor Albariño 2010 from Rias Baixas shows fruity aromas of peaches and melons but comes off very dry and crisp tasting. The refreshing acidity of an Albariño is a natural pairing for Galician seafood. This wine is widely available, reasonably priced ($17/bottle), and I encourage you to seek it out.

Valmiñor Albariño Rias Baixas 2010 (c)2011

Valmiñor Albariño Rias Baixas 2010 (c)2011

I hope you have a lovely, relaxing weekend. I’ll be sitting on the porch enjoying a Spanish happy hour at home with the husband. Thanks so much for reading!

Spanish Happy Hour


Valmiñor Albariño Rias Baixas 2010

Canned Clams with Lemon

Portuguese Longanzia from Il Mondo Vecchio

Wrinkled Potatoes Canary Island Style

Mojo Rojo





Storyboard: Clams

Clam Storyboard (c)2011

I think we’ve taken clams for granted. They often play a supporting role in dishes to add visual and textural variety. A recipe for paella or fish stew might call for a handful of clams. However, clams are delicious in their own right. They’re also quick cooking, healthy, and flavorful. Reasonably priced clams are a great way to shake things up, adding variety to your cooking. Summer vegetables pair beautifully with clams. If you don’t typically cook clams, I urge you to get out there and try something new! Clams are best simply prepared, perfect for the lazy days of summer.

Aliza Green’s book, Starting with Ingredients, contains a whole chapter on clams. She writes that “clams are bivalve mollusks of various species that live buried in mud or sand.” Clams use a muscular foot to move around. The word “bivalve” refers to the clam’s two shells that are attached like a hinge with a ligament. Aliza reports that clams can live for more that 150 years!

Clams have a sweet, buttery taste and clam juices are prized in the kitchen for their subtle ocean flavor. Their flesh is a creamy pinkish-tan color that should be moist and firm. A fresh clam smells of the sea and nothing more.

Clams can be tiny, smaller than two inches in diameter, or large like the East Coast Chowder Clam or Pacific Northwest Geoduck. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch lists worldwide farmed clams, Atlantic soft-shell steamers(wild-caught), and the Pacific Geoduck(wild-caught) as Best Choice. This means that these populations are “abundant, well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.” East Coast and Pacific Northwest clams are available year-round. California clams are available November through April.


There are many varieties of clams, here I have noted the ones you are most likely to find in the United States:

Hard-Shell Clam

It has a thick, grayish-white shell with purple coloring on the inside. The habitat for hard-shells is in sandy coves along the beach. Small hard-shells (little necks) are more expensive than larger ones, as their flavor is sweeter and texture less rubbery. Cherrystones are a bit bigger than Little Necks. The largest hard-shell clam is the chowder or quahog. It can be over 3 inches in diameter and weigh as much as half a pound.

Soft-Shell Clam

These clams, known as steamers, are popular in New England. The foot protrudes from the clam shell, keeping it from closing completely. Soft-shell clams have a thin, brittle shell. In New England steamers are enjoyed simply as their name implies, steamed. They are also delicious fried.

Razor Clams

A clam with a long, thin shell that is shaped like a razor blade. In the United States razor clams are found on the Pacific Coast. Rick Stein describes the flavor of razor clams as sweet and slightly peppery. It’s easy to overcook a razor clam, so the best preparations involve a quick stint atop the grill, a ceviche, or tossing the shucked clams in hot pasta or sauce.

Geoduck Clam

{gooey-duck} a 6-inch-long clam with a neck that can reach up to about 1 1/2 feet. These dude is crazy-looking. I learned from the book, Starting with Ingredients, that geoduck means elephant trunk clam in Chinese.

Purchasing & Storing Clams

According to Rick Stein’s Complete Seafood (James Beard cookbook winner), all raw bivalves should be alive. The shells should be tightly closed or should close when tapped on a counter. Discard any that are open or broken. Soft-shell clams will not close completely, but should be alive and moving when stimulated. Store clams covered in seaweed or a damp cloth in the fridge. I don’t cover them all the way because they need a bit of air circulation to breathe. The clams will stay alive for a few days in the fridge. Clams are also sold canned in their own juices. Try several producers to determine your favorite. In Spain, high quality canned seafood is served for an appetizer with drinks. Bottled clam juice is easily found in the grocery store. Use one with no artificial ingredients to add depth to seafood dishes, soups, and sauces.


In the River Cottage Cookbook, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writes that clams should be rinsed under cold running water and scrubbed before cooking. He instructs that razor clams are quite sandy and need to be rinsed well then left in a bucket of seawater for a few hours. Small clams are usually kept whole, while giant clams are chopped into pieces.  Clams can be shucked and prepared ceviche style or baked with breadcrumbs. They are delicious thrown in a dutch oven pot with a bit of liquid and aromatics, simmered until open and tossed with pasta. A recipe from The Young Man and the Sea uses clams for homemade stock which adds depth to seafood dishes. Batter and fry clams, then serve them with aioli and lemon. In the New England area clams are steamed and also used in chowder. Clams are fantastic grilled over charcoal or a wood fire.

Flavor Pairing

Produce like tomatoes, red bell pepper, garlic, shallot, leek, fennel, potatoes, corn, red onion
Herbs: basil, thyme, chive, parsley, tarragon, cilantro, dill
Chili peppers such as jalapeño or red chiles
Seafood such as oysters, mussels, shrimp, and pretty much any fish
Spices: curry, fennel seed, black pepper, allspice, saffron, crushed red pepper flakes
Citrus such as lemon and limes
Capers, anchovy
Pork, such as bacon or chorizo
Butter, cream
White wine
Soy sauce
White beans

What flavors do you most enjoy with clams? Click Here to comment.


Cook in the Moment: Clams in Fennel Broth

Clams In Fennel Broth (c)2011

Clams In Fennel Broth (zoom)

I know what you want right now in the heat of summer. You want something light, quick to cook, flavorful but simple. No problem! I find that my appetite can be stifled by the heat. The idea of stepping into my kitchen and sweating over a hot stove is not appealing. So, I came up with Clams in Fennel Broth. First, you can cook this in 20 minutes easily. Chop fennel and leek. Throw into pot. Add clams and simmer 10 minutes. Done. Second, Clams in Fennel Broth is light with a pure, seafood flavor. You can taste the clams, sweet and briny. They pair nicely with herbal fennel and buttery leek. Make sure to use the fennel fronds at the end- so important to the flavor! This week at the Boulder Farmers Market fennel was everywhere I looked, so we’re cooking in the moment here. It feels good.

I thought about adding pasta or crusty bread, but decided against it. When it’s this hot outside, you just don’t need anything more than a bit of seafood and some delicious broth to slurp. Glass of wine too, you’ll definitely need that.

Clams In Fennel Broth (c)2011

Clams In Fennel Broth (zoom)

Clams in Fennel Broth

serves 4 as a starter or 2 for a light summer meal

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bulb fennel, diced and fronds set aside
1 leek, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper
heavy cream
1 lemon
1 pound littleneck clams, rinsed under water and scrubbed clean**

Heat a medium pot, such as a Le Creuset dutch oven, over medium heat. Add butter and once it has melted, toss in the garlic. Cook the garlic for 1 minute, stirring, to infuse the butter with flavor. Both the fennel and leek can be tossed in the pot now. Cook for about 3 minutes on medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender but do not allow them to brown. Pour in the white wine and water and bring to a simmer. Add the clams and simmer, covered, for about 8-10 minutes until all the clams open. Discard any that do not open their shells.

Now it’s time to make an awesome broth. Take the clams out of the pot and set them aside. Taste the broth and season with salt and pepper as needed. Feel free to add some water to the broth if you are low on liquid. A splash of heavy cream will give the broth a lovely texture, but don’t go crazy with the cream, ok? Cut a lemon in half and squeeze in some of the juice to taste. You’re balancing the cream with acidity from the lemon. Nice. Put the clams back in the broth and give it a stir. Remember those fennel fronds you set aside? Chop up a handful and throw them into the pot with the clams.

Spoon the broth into bowls and top with the clams. Serve at room temp or just a touch warmer, but not piping hot- it’s summer!

**Clam shells should be tightly shut before cooking. Clams that do not close up when tapped on the counter should not be cooked- throw them out.

10 Ways Tuesday: Clams

Clams (c)2011

I’ve got fresh ideas for cooking with clams during summer:


1.  Shellfish Platter

In Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook you’ll find instructions on composing a glorious Plateau de Fruits de Mer. It’s one of those grand seafood platters people order in restaurants, a true celebration of all the ocean has to offer. For me, it’s a jovial way to share a table with friends while drinking bubbles. A platter is filled with ice and seafood piled atop. Cooked crab, lobster, mussels, and shrimp are served alongside raw, shucked oysters and clams. A choice of sauces such as mignonette, cocktail, and aioli is placed on the table for dipping. Magnificent!

2.  Pizza

Every Friday night Proto’s Pizza in Boulder features a special of clam pizza. Mario Batali shares his take in Molto Gusto with a recipe for Pizza Vongole. Clams are cooked in a pot with olive oil, garlic, white wine and red pepper flakes. Then a pizza crust is topped with fresh mozzarella and baked. Once removed from the oven the pizza is topped with clams and plenty of fresh parsley.

3.  Broiled

The recipe for Sizzling Clams with Garlic-Herb Butter in Bistro Cooking at Home is quick, flavorful, and can be prepared ahead of time. Gordon Hamersley suggests shucking the clams ahead of time and placing them on a cookie sheet in the fridge, each with a dollop of the compound butter. To cook the clams just place them under a hot broiler for about 3 minutes. Serve the sizzling hot clams with chopped herbs and lemon wedges as a starter.

4.  Grilled Over Hot Coals

Littleneck and razor clams are delicious cooked on the grill, where the smoke infuses the shellfish. Just set them on a wire rack and cook for a few minutes until they pop open, bubbling in their own juices. Serve with grilled corn. Spiked Clams and Oysters from The New Classics by Martha Stewart seems like a great idea. The shellfish are placed in a cast-iron skillet with tequila, covered in foil and cooked atop a charcoal grill. Imagine the possibilities! I think it would be interesting to use an especially smoky or tequila for this. She serves the cooked clams and oysters with several sauces: chipotle mayonnaise, Bloody Mary sauce, and lime-mint sauce.

5.  Ceviche

Two-Minute Cherrystone Clam Ceviche  from The Young Man & the Sea is inspired by the South American technique of “cooking” seafood by marinating it in citrus juice. Shucked clams are tossed with lemon and lime juice then served in their shells with diced watermelon, cucumber, scallions, jalapeño and sea salt. So refreshing in the heat of summer!

6.  Asian Stir-Fry

I came across a recipe for Stir-Fried Clams with Garlic and Ginger in Rick Stein’s Complete Seafood (James Beard Award Winning Cookbook), that looks perfect for summer: quick cooking with big flavors. Garlic, ginger, clams, shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, and green onions are stir-fried in a hot wok. This dish would make a healthy, easy weeknight supper.

7.  Clams and Pork

Clams and pork are a beautiful combination. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall refers to the Portuguese tendency to pair the two in his book, River Cottage. Clams are steamed in white wine.  Seasoned pork tenderloin is browned in a frying pan then cooked with chorizo, the clams and their juices. A finely chopped chile is added at the last moment and the dish is served over white rice. This recipe from Bon Appétit combines clams with fennel and spicy Italian sausage. I like clams cooked with chorizo over white beans.

8.  Go Greek with Shellfish Youvetsi

How to Roast a Lamb, by Michael Psilakis, details a recipe for shellfish stew inspired by the clay pot Greek sheepherders used to cook stews. Onion, fennel, garlic and celery are sauteed in oil for the base. Saffron is sprinkled in, then littleneck clams, razor clams, shrimp, and mussels are thrown into the pot with orzo pasta. The shellfish simmers in white wine and ouzo just a few moments until perfectly cooked. To finish, the shellfish youvetsi is served with lemon and herbs such as parsley, dill, and mint. This sounds so light and fresh, perfect for a summer evening and an easy supper with friends.

9.  Go For the Can

That’s right, I’m talkin’ canned clams. It’s a Spain thing. Ever since I saw Anthony Bourdain in Spain singing the virtues of canned seafood I’ve developed a fascination with it. Canned seafood can be kept in the pantry waiting to be tossed with pasta or served on an hors d’ oeuvres plate to drop in guests. Look for products with no added ingredients and try different producers until you settle on a favorite.

10.  Clam Juice

Bottled clam juice is often used to add flavor to soups, pasta sauces, and risotto. The Lee Bros. write about clam juice in their Southern Cookbook, describing it as having a “fresh from the sea” flavor. I like clam juice in dishes where there are no clams to add depth of flavor like this shrimp scampi. Cook’s Illustrated recommends using clam juice to flavor seafood stocks used in dishes like paella and bouillabaisse.

 How do you like to cook with clams? Let me know in the comments section. Click here.