I grew up with parents who adore shellfish. Everything from crayfish to oysters, mussels to clams, they would order them fresh whenever they could.
Granted, in Kansas, you have to be a bit choosy about when and where you order them. But any time we took a vacation to a coast, my mom was all over the oyster platter.
I was in my late twenties before I started to embrace oysters and clams outside of chowder form. It was at a dear friend's Hilton Head, South Carolina wedding where I really got brave and had (gasp!) more than just one.
Fast forward to 2013 and an outing by friends to the Tomales Bay Oyster Company.
The oysters by the bay experience is a must. For a $75 reservation you get a picnic table, large trash container, charcoal grill, oyster knife, gloves and a dozen oysters dug up fresh that morning less than 100 yards away.
We all divied up food responsibilities: dessert, bread, cheese, fruit, mignonettes, wine, more cheese. We had quite the spread and quite the view.
That day I shucked my first oyster and figured out how to eat them without making a complete fool of myself. I also found out I prefer clams to oysters ... who knew?
By mid-afternoon we were all completely stuffed, happy and a bit sunburned. But it was such a great adventure. We can't wait to repeat it this summer.
Clams at home
We brought a large bag of clams home from Tomales Bay and I must admit, we were a bit nervous. Were we up to the task of making these on our own without experts around?
We turned to our trusy companion, Bobby Flay. His Grill It book has a simple, wonderful recipe that we couldn't mess up.
I served our clam bowls with some thin, peppery crackers on the side and we went to town on these little guys.
Linguine with Clams
Need a fast dinner option? Go with mussels, oysters or clams. It doesn't get any easier. This quick recipe from A Food Centric Life had the lemon/wine combination that I have come to love.
A note on clam purchasing: Clams should have a fresh, clean ocean scent when you buy them, not a strong or fishy smell. The shells should be clean, unbroken and tightly closed. Also, plan on about 1 pound of clams per person.
(We have a wonderful local market, Diablo Foods, where I get all my fresh seafood. It's like Whole Foods, but family owned.)
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 pound dried linguine
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
2 pounds small clams, rinsed and scrubbed to remove grit (I like manilas or littlenecks)
1/3 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley; more for garnish
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for your pasta. Peel five 1-inch-wide strips of zest from the lemon with a peeler, then cut the lemon in half for juicing later.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and lemon strips and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the garlic starts to brown around the edges, about 3 minutes. Be careful not to burn the garlic.
Remove from the heat and use a fork to pick out and discard the lemon strips. Transfer a little more than 1/4 cup of the oil (without the garlic) to a small bowl.
Put the pasta in the water and set your timer for ten minutes. Raise the heat under the skillet to high and add the chile flakes and the clams.
Cook the clams for 1 minute, shaking the pan. Pour in the wine and cook for 1 minute. Cover the pan and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until all the clam shells open, 3 to 5 minutes.
After 10 minutes the linguine should be just tender. Drain and add to the clams. Raise the heat to high and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, tossing gently. Stir in the 1/2 cup parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add more salt, pepper or lemon juice to taste.
(Things were nice and steamy at this point.)
Serve immediatly, topped with a drizzle of the reserved lemon-garlic oil and more parsley.
I love, love, loved this. It was like fine dining at home in under 30 minutes.
The lemon-garlic oil, parsley and wine were a perfect trifecta. Add some red pepper flakes and you get a nice balance for the clams and pasta. I'm always surprised how quickly the clams absorb all that flavor.
Mr. McCormick liked it, but didn't love it. (I loved it.) Then again, he's not a huge pasta fan.
I will say, Bobby's recipe is still my preferred go-to. But if you're looking to try a clam adventure, this recipe is timed out perfectly.