Tuesday, May 12, 2009

For Lance: clams, avocado and brie

As you may remember, Lance submitted three ideas for our reader-guided chopped appetizer challenge. He chose clams, avocado and brie.

Clams, avocado and brie?! Well, okay... As he didn't specify which type of clams, we were pleased to pick our own. We consulted the seafood case at Wegman's, where our three choices were littlenecks, cherrystone, or soft shell steamers. We chose the soft shell steamers, both for price and accessibility. Have you seen these kind of clams? They are frankly a bit frightening. Most bivalves, in my experience, react but don't seem to act. That is to say, out of the water, sitting on my counter, I don't expect them to do much. I certainly don't expect them to, for example, lick the spoon. Or attack me. More on that in a minute.

I should've taken a picture of one of these creatures alive and active, but I was too busy being creeped out and yet fascinated. Generally, bivalves are sold alive and it's important that you keep them that way right up until the moment you're cooking them, as decomposition happens very quickly. Many live bivalves have their shells closed or slightly gapped (I assume it's the bivalve equivalent of pulling the blanket over your head; they're hoping high tide will come again soon). Tightly closed is preferable. If you have one that's slightly gapped, you'll need to see if it's alive. To test if the creature is still alive and kicking, you tap on the shell.

I must digress quickly. Did you know that when the Pope dies, there's a specific ritual to see if he's really dead? Rituals in the Catholic Church shouldn't surprise anyone, but this specific one is interesting. He is asked three times, by name, if he's dead and hit in the head with a little hammer. Interesting, no?

Back to the clams. Tap on the shell; (are you dead yet?) it should close quickly. Again, presumably it's like knocking on the door (anyone home?) and they pull the curtain and throw the deadbolt. If it doesn't react this way, I tend to resort to drastic measures to make sure it's dead. I take a butter knife and gently poke the soft body of the clam. It should quickly close its shell. I'm sure if we listened closely, we'd hear it swearing at me for poking it. If it doesn't care you're jabbing at it, we generally consider it dead and throw it out (although, now that I think about it, what if it's just a masochist? It will enjoy dying a slow death in my garbage can, I guess).
After you've cooked them, any that haven't opened are dead and should be tossed, too. In any given bag of muscles, for example, I usually throw out one or two. With this batch, I didn't throw out any clams. If you're concerned about the grit some clams collect, you can "chip" them by putting them in a big bowl full of cold water for about an hour. Some people put salt in the water, some put cornmeal, some nothing. The end result is the clams spit out some of the sand they're holding. One should also scrub the shells to remove any ocean debris.

These clams did not sit privately in their shells. They put out their siphon (which looks like a big, black tongue, or a phallus) and, um, I don't know what they were doing. But they did it in the case at Wegman's, too, and always do whenever I've seen them. They seem to be licking other clams, or the counter, or a nearby spoon, or whatever they can get their gross siphons on. It's vaguely lecherous. I poked at one and it retreated into the shell and snapped closed, pinching the skin of my finger. I picked up another one to show Darling Husband, and used the blunt side of a butter knife to poke it. This one squirted me with a jet of water and clamped onto the knife--hard. These are spunky, combative bivalves, which made me anthropomorphize them more and made it a little harder to steam them alive. On the other hand, their obvious willingness to kill or be killed made the task a little easier.

I steamed, Darling Husband shucked.I chose to use the steaming liquid and expelled clam liquor to make a risotto, into which I put brie (sans rind) and avocado. It was creamy and amazing. Meanwhile, I blended up some more avocado with olive oil and parsley. I chopped and added in my clams close to the last minute, and plated as little shooters on the half-shell, dabbed with the avocado/parsley mixture. I then shaved a little of the reserved brie rind on top. It was sin on a half shell, considering how rich and decadent it was. I loved it.

Darling Husband made a frito misto, dredging the clams and the brie rinds in a tempura batter (rice flour and club soda) and frying them. These were served with an avocado and balsamic dipping sauce. He told me he attempted to make brie sticks, but the soft cheese disintegrated in the oil so he had to just use the outside. They were crunchy and wonderful! Our whole house smelled like fried clams for days, but it was totally worth it.

Brie, clams and avocado. Et voila.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful. I think MF's creation should be called "Clams Lance."