By Mara Papatheodorou, your Tastes & Traditions Expert
Many members of the mollusk family—clams, mussels, scallops, oysters-arrive at the table as main attractions or as part of a bigger plated picture. The most underrated of the group is also the sturdiest, sustainable and subtle. Simply stated, when given the chance, the clam has cache. On its own or as a supportive ingredient, its presence plays an important role in evolution, culinary history, environmental responsibility, and merchants money.
For over 500 million years, it has burrowed itself deep into the sandy shores of the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Western Mediterranean. The deep crevices upon its top and bottom exteriors provide vital messages for marine biologists about aquatic life and survival at sea. Meanwhile, fishermen embrace its abundance in the coastal centers of New England, the Northwest, Canada and European countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal and Southern France. They all recognize that its tender interior makes it a restaurant commodity delight. Steamed, smoked, fried, baked or roasted, clams have an appealing flavor and texture all of their own. They are also low in calories, high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals.
Broth is its buddy and cream, potatoes, bacon, tomatoes or breadcrumbs are often part of its most enticing equations. They are prominent components in chowders whether it is the famed creamy white New England version or the red tomato based Manhattan choice- both recipes were concocted by regional fishermen as a local specialty. Fresh fried clam rolls or buckets of steamers are standards at many casual eateries or at oceanfront boardwalk “Clam Shacks”. Fine dining establishments feature clam casino, or versions of international seafood stews like paella (Spanish), bouillabaisse (French) or cioppino (Italian) with clams as part of those dishes’ entourage. And bartenders keep clam juice ready as their secret splash to a hearty Bloody Mary.
This mighty mollusk has also cultivated itself as a synonym for many of life’s details. It generally keeps its shell shut hence the silent term “clammed up,” or when lots of shells are poured together they create noisy “clamor”. Content to nestle in the sand has led to the emotional endearment “happy as a clam,” while its wet cold “clammy” inside is now an adjective referring to being sticky or sweaty. Native Americans, seafaring trade merchants and fishermen used them as money, while other cultures turned the shells into jewelry. They are also an inspiration for architectural design (a construction digger’s clam bucket or a lighting fixture clam shell) and have even been a part of comedy (Bette Midler’s Clams on the Half Shell Revue).
Executive Chef Eric Greenspan loves the sturdy shell yet delicate flavor and tenderness of clams. Noted for coastal cuisine at his magical restaurant Maré, his unique mix and match approach in which patrons choose and pair shellfish with a flavored broth is a not-to- be-missed winner.
There is no clamming up when these magnificent mollusks unite with a beautiful blended broth, an egg, and spaghetti for a dish that makes a mouthwatering impression. Check out how this bigger than life award winning chef delicately handles the clams’ “it” factor’! See the Chef Spotlight with Eric Greenspan.
TOOLS FOR THE TASTE
As an innovative chef, make clams the star to create your own shellfish-based concoction and use Matfer’s Copper Sauté Pan with Lid, the Mussel Pot with Lid, the Exoglass® Skimmer and Spoon as well as the diverse Giesser Knives.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“I follow three rules. Do the right thing. Do the best you can do and always show people you care.”
–Lou Holtz, American college football coach and former coach of the
New York Jets