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.
Mussels are one of my favs. if they are fresh and prepared in the right way, they will give you the real taste of the sea. However, they are very delicate and need to be treated with care because, as it happens very often with fish and seafood, overcooking is a very common mistake and will spoil the result.
If you want to have an excellent result in terms of both flavour and texture, follow these simple steps.
First of all, you need to clean them: usually you will find a bit of seaweed coming out of the shell: pull it off (this is probably the most tedious part of the process).
Discard all the broken shells; once done, put them in a colander and rinse.
Put them in a pan large enough to allow some extra room as the shells will open up and the overall volume will increase and add a splash of water (or white wine if you prefer). You can add some crushed garlic if you like it.
With the lid on, cook on medium heat and, when they start opening up, stir them with a wooden spoon to allow even cooking (put the lid back on afterwards).
Do not cook for more than 3-4 minutes after they start opening up, and discard all the shells that didn’t open. If not using immediately, keep the lid on (if too much steam escapes, it will make the mussels dry, you want them soft and moist!)
The mussels will release a lot of liquid which is packed with flavour: you just need to strain it before using it. Use a colander (or even better a conical strainer if you have one) lined with muslin (kitchen paper will do if you don’t have it but it’s a bit more hard work and it gets ripped quite easily). By doing that you will make sure that no sand or other impurities will find their way into your plate.
Razor clams owe their English name to their resemblance to the handle of an old fashioned straight razor, whilst they are called cannolicchi in Italian because their shape is also similar a small cane -canna in Italian (in fact, another name is bamboo clam).
Razor clams live in the sand in the seashore and, although not often commercially fished (mainly because they are quite difficult to catch due fact that they can burrow incredibly quickly in mud or sand soil), they are regarded as a delicacy.
Compared to other shellfish such as cockles and clams, or mussels, they have a sweeter, less salty and more delicate flavour, that makes them one of my favourites, something that I always buy when they are available
They are very simple to prepare too, are good both cold and warm, and can be the main ingredient of a quick and tasty pasta dish or a delicious salad.
See below how to prepare them:
- First, rinse them in running water
- Put them in a pan with a splash of water (I suggest you don’t use white wine as they will be ready very quickly and there would be no time to cook off the alcohol) and cover
- Cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes until the shells open up
- Once opened you will just need to discard the dark sac you will find in the middle of the clam (I assume it’s the stomach but I do not have any scientific knowledge to support this statementt), as it’s normally very gritty
- As usual with shellfish, filter the liquid they have released as it’s packed with flavour and you should use it in your recipe