Isn’t it funny how you can learn so quickly not to put your hand on a hot stove after doing it once, but no matter how many times the waitress tells you that the plate is hot, you can’t help but touch it? In my case, I counterintuitively touch the plate to prove that it isn’t actually hot – to me. After working in restaurants for long enough, your hands become immune to scalding temperatures, but let’s face it, the plate is rarely as hot as they make it out to be. But then, sometimes it is….
One of my biggest deficiencies in the learning my lessons department (or should I say one of my many?) is letting too many things fall into my grocery basket. Now this isn’t actually a problem with most items since they can range from charcuterie, that will always get nibbled, to pickled figs that have a long pantry life. Other than creating dents in my bank account, which I am accustomed to ignoring, no real damage has been done. However, when I visit my favorite fish market, Gemini, I often walk away with more seafood than I can eat before it goes bad. Seafood is not something that can hang out in the ice box too long without acting up. No matter how many times going in (to Gemini) telling myself to keep my eye on the prize, I end up walking away with three fish in the basket and a few more in my bag.
I am not one to waste food and it especially makes me mad if a perfectly good trout had to give up it’s life just to be tossed away. If I find myself having bought an extra rack of lamb on impulse, along with more meat than days to eat it prior to expiration, I can always treat it to a little deep freeze and enjoy it another time. I can’t do this with seafood. Not only would it kill the clams along with the whole point of cooking them live in the first place, but would also ruin the sole purpose of buying, just in, fresh scallops rather than the readily available frozen variety.
Although I eat most anything, my eating habits are finicky. I can crave sashimi one day and feel like fried chicken the next (as you might have noted in my recent post). Luckily, Buddy and Ginger came up with a nifty solution on such occasions; they offered to eat anything that we didn’t. Of course, they trust we will not let them eat anything harmful to their health, such as grapes or onions.
Most recently I found myself with 1 1/2 lbs of clams, 4 fresh East Coast sea scallops and a beautiful chunk of Hawaiian big-eye tuna, all requiring immediate attention (I had in fact eaten the salmon I meant only to buy in the first place) . It was fairly late on a Monday night, so a five-course meal was probably not a good idea. Although not a bad one either.
I seared one scallop for each of us (Ginger and Buddy included). Lot’s of butter under Tom’s and mine but the other two left near the side of the pan to keep within the non-harmful range of the butter as promised.
The tuna was still lovely and odor-free but I didn’t trust eating it raw anymore; wrapped it up in foil and 7 minutes in the hot oven left a scent that perked Ginger and Buddy right up, noses sniffing and circling around the kitchen like a couple of sharks (we joke that’s what they should be for Halloween). They knew the smell meant the tuna was for them. Tom and I ate the clams all by ourselves, right down to the last bit of sauce; sopped up with the last crust of our bread.
STEAMED CLAMS WITH BACON, POTATOES AND JALAPEÑO
This is quite the best time of year for clams and this batch was particularly perfect. I love it when they are little but plump, just as I prefer my oysters; clean, powerful flavor without all the extra gunk (you know, that stringy unpleasant stuff)!
A crusty baguette and fresh greens tossed in a simple vinaigrette of chopped shallots, Grenache vinegar and good quality olive oil rounds out the meal.
1 1/2 lbs steamer clams
1 medium-large gold potato, 1/4″ diced, cooked in salted water until just tender, drained
2 slices, thick-cut bacon cut into 1/4″ slices
1 small jalapeño, stems and seeds removed, chopped
1 or 2 tomatoes (dependent on your affinity for tomatoes), stems removed, diced
1 small, sweet onion, chopped (you might end up with 1/2 cup or more)
1tsp smoked paprika (for a smokey flavor)
The juice of a medium lemon
1 cup white wine (plus more for your glass)
Approximately 1/4 cup fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped
Butter, as much as you dare, or none if you don’t! (I dare a few knobs (+/- 2TB))
2 deep pasta bowls in the warming drawer and an extra bowl for shells.
COOK THE POTATOES as described above and GATHER the rest of your ingredients.
If you have purchased your clams a day or two in advance (oops) it is best to store them on a sheet pan in a single layer, uncovered in the fridge so that they may breathe rather than suffocate shamelessly in a plastic bag. RINSE THE CLAMS AND SOAK THEM in cold water, fortified with a tablespoon or so of cornmeal (this helps them to shed their debris). You can do this several hours beforehand and leave in the fridge until ready to cook.
In a large sauté pan, PLACE the CUT BACON into the pan and TURN TO MEDIUM HEAT. When cooked through and beginning to crisp, ADD jalapeño, tomato, onion and smoked paprika. After a minute or so, ADD the clams.
Meanwhile and simultaneously, BROWN the potatoes in butter over medium-high heat. They are soft already so the high heat coupled with butter will act quickly to turn them from pale to a light shade of brown. When the potatoes form a slight bit of crust without burning, TOSS THEM IN WITH the clams and shake the pan to combine. In a minute or two SQUEEZE in the lemon, then pour in the wine (but not from your glass). The pan will want to recuperate from these additions to regain it’s heat; once bubbling, COVER THE PAN and let it SIMMER for 5-7 minutes or until the clams open their shell.
As the clams open, REMOVE THEM with tongs to their serving bowls. TURN UP THE HEAT on the remaining sauce and ADD THE HERBS, along with an optional knob (yes, that is a technical kitchen term) of butter. After a minute or two, the sauce will thicken slightly. LADLE the sauce over the clams, warming them and leaving a pool of liquid to sop up with the crusty bread.
This whole effort goes by very quickly and will reward you with what seems like a laborious feast without all the labor.