Friday, October 14, 2005

Seafood heaven

Ten gorgeous, oceany-smelling fresh clams, large enough to properly be called quahogs, rode home from Atlanta with me on Wednesday evening. They were nestled in a double plastic bag in a soft-sided coolerful of ice, but the plastic was left open and hanging out of the top of the cooler so they could breathe.

When I got home, I made up a potful of cold brine--1/3 cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of water--and placed the clams in it. Then I sprinkled 1/4 c. of fine cornmeal on top so the clams would eat it, thereby chasing the grit and impurities out of their systems. The clams remained like this overnight in the refrigerator.

Yesterday afternoon I flushed the clams well with fresh water, scrubbed them, dried them, and made this, which was truly excellent:

rock salt or coarse kosher salt
10 large hard-shelled clams, prepared as above
3 ping-pong-ball-sized mushrooms (I used puffballs, but button mushrooms would work), cleaned and chopped small
2 slices crispy cooked bacon, chopped small
1 tsp. fresh minced parsley
fresh bread crumbs as needed
freshly ground black pepper to taste
10 dots of butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Shake out a layer of salt in a jellyroll pan and nest the clams in it. This is to keep them stable so they don't spill their liquor. Bake them just until they open. Discard any clams that refuse to open (or that have been hanging half-open the whole time you've been preparing them).
Keep the oven turned on.
Open the clams all the way by cutting the muscles at the sides. Pour all the liquor into a small bowl and reserve. Cut out the meat of the clams, chop it, and put it into a large bowl. Reserve 10 half clamshells, nesting them once again in the salt-filled jellyroll pan.
To the large bowl containing the chopped clam meat, add the mushrooms, bacon, and parsley. Throw in a couple handfuls of bread crumbs, then add just enough clam liquor to make a mixture that will hold its shape. You can keep tweaking the amount of bread crumbs and clam liquor to get the consistency you like.
Taste for salt. The mixture should probably have retained some of its brininess. If not, adjust. Mound the mixture into the half clamshells, grind a little pepper on each, then top each filled clamshell with additional breadcrumbs and a dot of butter.
Bake until golden brown.

Note: We haven't tried this yet, but our experience in coastal seafood restaurants suggests that a layer of grated cheese between the clam mixture and the breadcrumb topping would not be a bad thing. It doesn't need it, but then again, why not go for the gusto?