Clams (vongole in Italian) are a type of bivalve, extremely popular in Italian cuisine thanks to their intense but yet delicate flavour, and the fact that they require minimal manipulation and still provide fantastic results.
We have seen How to steam mussels , and the process for clams is very similar, what changes is essentially the way they need to be cleaned in order to get rid of all the sand and other impurities that you will find as they burrow under the sea floor.
Also, ask your fishmonger if they have already been purged (normally it is the case); if not, put them in a bowl filled with salty water and let them sit for several hours to expel all the grit and sand. Once that your clams have been purged, this is the process to follow:
- Put the clams in a large bowl and fill it with cold water
- Rub them between the palms of your hand as in the picture. Don’t be too gentle, you will need a bit of force:
- You will see that the water becomes cloudy:
- Change the water and repeat the operation several times until the water stays clear after rubbing the shells:
NOTE: some suggest to rub the shells with a stiff brush; that method works well with larger clams but the one I use works better for smaller ones, which are the ones I normally cook
- Discard all the broken shells and the ones that are not tightly closed
- Put them in a pan large enough to allow some extra room as the shells will open up and the overall volume will increase; add a splash of water (or white wine if you prefer). You can also add some crushed garlic if you like it.
- Cook on medium-high heat, with the lid on, for a few minutes, until they open up. NOTE: as usual with fish and seafood, overcooking is the most common mistake, so you should really pay attention and make sure that you take them off the heat as soon as they open up, otherwise they will shrink and will become tough and rubbery.
- Let them cool down with the lid on if not using immediately
- Discard all the shells that did not open up
- Using a colander lined with muslin cloth, strain the liquid released by the clams; you want to use it in your recipe as it’s packed with flavour.