Iron Chef: Clams

Every once in a while instead of a traditional potluck, we like to gather a group of friends and have a potluck dinner that highlights a particular ingredient.  We always plan on judging but are usually too polite to actually crown a winner (doesn’t matter, I always believe my dish is the winner).  Despite that fact, we refer to these parties as “Iron Chef” nights.

Past Iron Chef nights have included Iron Chef Corn (my shrimp, avocado and corn salad was dominant) and Iron Chef Mushrooms (my warm mixed mushroom bruschetta made everyone feel worse about themselves).  With over 100 clams traveling back to Boston with us from the Jersey Shore, last Monday night was perfectly primed for Iron Chef Clams.

(quick disclaimer: this didn’t work the same as a normal Iron Chef because Kristi and I had time to make three dishes and other couples only had time to make one or no time to make any.  So its an Iron Chef in title/categorization only)

Most of the clams gathered were medium or large which made them much chewier when cooked.  Due to the size, and that they were a couple days old, the best way to use them was to steam first then chop for use in multiple dishes.  The full batch of clams was rinsed, scrubbed, and steamed in three separate waves due to how many we had.  Two dozen of the smallest and best clams were reserved for Buschy’s grilled clams.

This pot was the best $20 that I have spent in the last two years. It's survived three camping trips and hundreds of mixed crustaceans

We steamed the full pot of clams for about 15 minutes in lightly salted water until all of the clams on top were fully opened.

Such a pretty sight; clams are my favorite shellfish behind lobster and I would guess I ingested 150 of them in the past week

The clams that don’t appear to be open are just being held closed by the number of clams in the pot.  Once they are moved, they spring open.

Kristi introduced me to the super-zoom on our camera recently and I am getting pretty into it

From there we took each pot of clams and harvested the meat.  We threw away all of the shells but over the previous weekend we reserved the largest ones for use in stuffed clams.  That dish evolved into a dish we made for Iron Chef night (more on that later).

Kristi got me a culinary school class to work on my knife skills last year. Hasn't stopped me from always being an eighth of an inch away from losing a finger tip

We filled up 4 of these 3-cup tupperware containers with clams

When the clams open they release a very salty and clammy liquid which filled the bottom of the steaming pot and was reserved for use in various dishes. Also pictured, the pitcher that was used to make an extremely dangerous white sangria that made Buschy act like Bubs from The Wire

For our first dish, we made clam cakes which evolved from the stuffed clams we had made over the previous weekend.  The cakes were one part chopped clams, one part mixture of minced garlic and parsley, diced yellow onion, red and green pepper, breadcrumbs, corn, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  We added two eggs to bind the mixture, formed them into miniature patties and put them in a hot pan with olive oil.

I don't make pretty food, but you definitely knew these would be delicious even before they were cooked

These didn't brown and hold together as cleanly as the test batch we made over the previous weekend, likely due to using a teflon coated pan this time around, but they tasted just as good. The best parts were the crispy bits of chewy sweet clam

The second dish for Iron Chef Clam was made by our friends Conor and Trisha.  It was a traditional Lithuanian clam dip as seen in various cooking magazines that immediately went out of business and an obscure episode of Sanford and Son. You know, clam dip?  Its served with Fritos and made with cream cheese? Nothing?

This best-selling New England Patriots Chips and Salsa dish was initially marketed as a Frito and Clam Dip dish before the marketing manager was fired

Con and Trish have been making this dip for years and that’s pretty much how the conversation goes every time they introduce someone new to it.  It’s not exactly sitting atop the food pyramid, but it also happens to be completely delicious.  They mix in hot sauce, black pepper, and the clam liquid to thin it out then let it set before serving.  The fresh clams made it even better than usual with the dip tasting almost sweet.

Best served with a delicious glass of Rippo or slathered on a fat free hot dog using a finger due to a lack of utensils

The next dish was equally unusual sounding.  For years I made fun of a friend of mine at my old job who used to bring in homemade clam pizza to work.  Now, she deserved it since the whole thing appeared undercooked, was heated in the microwave on a paper towel, and generally looked like partially cooked dough with paper stuck to it.  However, I thought the idea was promising.

With clam pizza in mind, we purchased dough from a local pizza parlor.  I know, its a cop-out.  I used to make my own pizza dough often but what I learned was that I never thought far enough in advance to let the dough fully mature.  This was best captured by the time I returned home from a midday corporate booze cruise and wanted pizza so I decided to wait 3+ hours for a homemade pesto pizza dough to rise, be punched down, and rise again.  So now I buy it for a couple of dollars from the people who do have the proper amount of forethought.

This large pizza dough costs $1.50. It represents years of pizza making by Rizzos in Jamaica Plain and a continuously refined dough supply from the same starter. Why would I make my own?

I cut the dough in half and stretched it into two pizzetta sized pieces by hand.  I brushed each with a little olive oil, a little clam liquid, crushed red pepper, fresh minced garlic and parsley.  I then sprinkled a little shredded parmesan and layered a healthy handful of the chopped clams on top before covering the entire area with mozzarella.  After brushing the outer crust with olive oil, salt and pepper it headed into a 450 degree oven on the back of a baking sheet.  I prefer that method over a pizza stone.

After 12 minutes we pulled the pizzetta, let it rest for a few and sliced it up.

The first batch went quick but I pressed my luck and put out the second batch during dessert. Didn't sell as well

Once again, the fresh clams made it work.

Four bites of deliciousness

After the pizza came out, Buschy dropped his two dozen grilled clams and drawn butter on the table.  Once again Buschy proved that simplicity is the best approach when cooking fresh ingredients.  The clams were gone in under a minute and I considered drinking the butter they had been dipped in to savor any final bits of deliciousness.  I wish I had a picture, but it all happened so fast that I completely blew it.

The final dish was a pretty traditional linguine with white clam sauce.  I sauteed garlic for a bit in a couple tablespoons of butter, then added the chopped clams and a lot of white wine, lemon juice and clam liquid.  After reducing for 10-15 minutes I tossed in the mostly-cooked linguine and a handful of fresh parsley.

The sauce to linguine ratio was a little lower than I usually like because I was getting cheered on as I added massive handfuls of linguine to the pan and got carried away

All in all, a really delicious assortment of food and a very enjoyable dinner.

Tragically, nothing on the table survived. Conor even ate that spoon

Not sure what my next post will be, but I am guessing it involves a trip to the meat section at my local Latin/Caribbean grocer and winging it from there.  I will try to start posting a couple times a week.