Saturday, February 20, 2010

Clams Casino (Page 50)

RECIPE #1105

  • Date: Sunday, February 14, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Matty and Brian
  • Dining Companion: Emilee
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time Plan. These clams were a component of the Valentine's Day dinner my special gentleman and I had with Emilee and Brian. When one is dealing with shellfish like clams, mussels, or oysters, there is always a point at which the animal itself needs to be separated from its shell. There are two choices here. One, cook the shellfish so that the shell pops open, providing easy access to the meat inside. Or two, pry the shell open while the animal is still alive, and remove the raw meat. Not surprisingly, option one is much easier. Clams have a vested interest in staying shut when something is trying to pry them open, and consequently they will fight back, closing as tightly as they can. Before I started this project I never really cooked with clams, oysters, or mussels, so my experience shucking clams was limited to a day in culinary school when I was required to practice this skill. It's not a particularly pleasant process so I practiced only enough to demonstrate a limited proficiency to my chef and then I went back to whatever else I was doing in the kitchen.

Some of the clam recipes in The Book are of the cook-it-until-it-pops-open variety and some require shucking. Without really thinking about it, I have been avoiding the ones with shucking. I decided it was time to start attacking them though, and this was the first such recipe. My special gentleman was in the kitchen with me the night we were making this dish, and he offered to help. Delighted, I asked him to shuck the clams. The recipe calls for the use of a clam knife, which I didn't have, seeing as how I never shuck clams. We tried to do it without, but found it to be a frightening experience with a sharp chef's knife, and completely impossible with a butter knife. So my special gentleman made a quick run to the store and bought a clam knife. Even once we had the right equipment it still took some time, and my special gentleman, Brian, and I working together, to find a method that worked well. My special gentleman did succeed in shucking all the clams, although to say that he was a little frustrated by the end would be an understatement. My favorite quote of the evening -- my special gentleman said, dryly, "I can see why they say that shellfish are an aphrodisiac." I think he was none too pleased with his crazy wife for assigning him that particular job...

One he shucked the clams he put the meat in a bowl and scrubbed the bottoms of the shells clean. He then returned the clams to their shells, and nestled them in kosher salt on a baking sheet. Meanwhile, I cooked chopped bacon until the fat rendered, then removed the bacon and cooked shallots and green pepper in the bacon fat plus some butter. I added the bacon, some parsley, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, then my special gentleman topped each clam with some of the mixture. We baked them until golden, then served them nestled in kosher salt on a platter. These clams were pretty good. The topping had a great flavor to it, and it complemented the flavor and the texture of the clams nicely. The balance of the ingredients was mostly good, although I wondered if it wouldn't have been better with a touch less bacon (crazy suggestion, I know!). Typically I always vote for more bacon, but in this case the bacon was a bit overpowering. The presentation of the dish quite nice. The clams looked very appetizing back in their cleaned shells. Overall the recipe was solid and I might make it again, especially if I can talk my special gentleman into shucking the clams for me once more!

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