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Bougie Clams and a Costco Table

You'll get it when you're older.

By Zach GrattanPublished 6 years ago 4 min read
Clams are sexy, too.

Fennel and quartered onions sweat. Enter a healthy dash of coriander for good measure. A good glug of Grigio gets the crispy bits off of the bottom. My grandma’s enameled pot is a fickle mistress. Corn and potatoes are optional. The butter, however, is not. This isn’t a piece for vegetarians; you can read on, but some animals were hurt in the making of this piece. Bivalves to be specific.

Fortunately, they don’t really feel pain in a way we can conceptualize. Probably no more than plants do. What even is pain? Screw it. I’m not here to wax philosophical. I’m here to eat clams.

My grandma boils clams. My mom boils them, and my dad too. I boil clams. In fact, I love to boil clams. There is nothing that assures me that I’ve once again escaped the clutches of a New England winter like a murky and greedy pot full of little necks. Or cherrystones. Hell, I’d even eat some quahogs.

In reality, they’re all the same thing. Littlenecks are just little quahogs. Cherrystones are medium-sized. Quahogs are big, steak-sized things that we mainly use for chowder. Whatever they are, they’re good.

The arrival of clams in my house was always heralded by the appearance of the Costco card table. It wasn’t pretty. It was covered in paint, and I believe a good bit of Mod-Podge, to boot. The square, gangly thing was only pulled out for grubbing when we:

  1. Wanted to eat communally, squeezing stories through full mouths and briny hands.
  2. Knew its mess was greater than the dining room table could shoulder.
  3. Were eating seafood. Or watching the Super Bowl. Two mutually exclusive events in my house.

The Costco card table was graced with several years-worth of mussels, steamers, lobsters, and littlenecks. It has met melted butter and tomalley, clam juice and the occasional drop of blood; eating lobster is not without its risks. A clambake is an invitation to come back to the familiar table from which we’re so often estranged. Take off your preconceptions, roll up your sleeves, and sit with us. I don’t care if it's finger food or haute cuisine, take off your jacket and stay awhile.

As you can see, my clams are more the latter. All the same, they’re some kind of doable. Sometimes the muse hits you with inspiration, and sometimes she hits you with a door, in the ass, as she kicks you out for the day, the week, the year. Boil clams with corn, red potatoes, and celery salt. Serve them with green tomato water and watermelon radish; do whatever the hell you want. Just sit down and eat with the people you give a shit about, please.

And le recipe:

  • 1 bag of littleneck clams
  • 4 cups salted water
  • 1 and ½ tablespoons Za’atar spice
  • Leftover white wine, Chardonnay, Grigio, Vinho Verde, whatever you got, about a cup.
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced thin, fronds separated
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
  • 4 green tomatoes
  • 1-2 watermelon radishes, sliced thin horizontally
  • You’ll need some cheesecloth, too.

Blend or dice green tomatoes very finely. Pour into cheesecloth, tie together, place in a bowl to drain and set aside. If draining ceases, give it a gentle squeeze.

Turn your stove to medium, give your big pot a glug of olive oil. No, I didn’t put it in the ingredients. I shouldn’t have to. Put your onion and fennel into the pot, letting them sweat and first, but don’t be afraid to let them brown a little. Don’t let them burn, just let them go long enough to hold the bottom of the pot. When they do, deglaze the pot with the wine, making sure to scrape the crispy bits off of the bottom. Add your za’atar, coriander, and chili flake. Honestly, you can use any seafood-friendly spices here, this was just what I had on hand.

Bring to a boil.

Pour in your water. It. Better. Be. Salted. Cover your pot, and leave it be until your clams open. It should take less than ten minutes.

In the meantime, warm your green tomato water. It should be a lovely yellowish green and smell like a tomato vine. Give it a pinch of salt and let it steam, stirring it once or twice.

When your clams are opened, cut the heat, remove from the burner and stir gently. Seriously, gently, you want to coat your clams in your broth, not lose them in it. Remove the clams from the broth, allowing them to drip out the majority of the broth. Place into dry bowls. Put in about as much as you could hold with two hands and then lade your green tomato water over the top of them.

Garnish with fennel fronds, watermelon radishes, and edible flowers, these were wild violets.

Serve with melted butter and bread crustier than your granddad.

I learned the tomato water trick from FLX Table, but they were doing it with red tomatoes, corn, and bacon, so in a way, this is mine. This dish is pretty simple to slap together, but it’s awfully pretty, and way more flavor-packed than the few ingredients and relatively simple preparation would suggest. In a perfect world, I’d do this dish with some bull kelp root, too. My girlfriend said it looks like an underwater scene, and I get it. Whatever it was, we like it. I hope you will. Now go eat something good.


About the Creator

Zach Grattan

There’s a story in every dish, but most people find it kind of hard to listen with their tongue.

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