I know I've been posting a lot of shellfish recipes lately. What can I say? We're in the homestretch. Most shellfish are currently piling on the fat so they can be ready for the spawning season, which generally coincides with warming water temperatures. And fat equals flavor. Let's say that again, class. Fat equals flavor. (I feel like the tie-dyed teacher on South Park.) Once on the spawn, they'll channel that fat toward reproductive success. This physiological change is readily apparent in oysters, which become watery or even milky during the warmest months.
So if you have a yen for some shellfish, now would be a good time to go. I visited one of my regular spots on Sunday with a passel of drunken midgets (as my friend Trouthole likes to refer to children). In typical Northwest fashion, we hit the tide flats in a squall of wind and rain that boded ill for the young charges, but the clouds eventually parted and the sun even deigned to show its face briefly. Ospreys are back and great blue herons stalked around the oyster bars like mimes on street corners.
Once the boys discovered they could dig for shrimp-like crustaceans, roust eels out of old shells, and generally run amok with sharp implements, they warmed to the idea of an afternoon in the mud. We all dug limits of littlenecks and shucked a bunch of oysters (more on the oysters in a future post). I also made sure to gather a dozen or so good-sized mussels.
Back at home Marty and I made one of our favorites, Pasta alle Vongole, and then the following night I steamed the rest of our clams plus the mussels. The thing about steamed shellfish is that it's so easy. There's a reason why steamed clams and mussels are a staple of virtually every dock-side restaurant up and down both coasts. Whether it's Clams with Herbed Wine Sauce, Cambodian Shellfish Amok, Mussels with Cream and Thyme, Spicy Black Bean Clams, Thai Red Curry Clams, or simply Steamers with Butter, steamed shellfish dishes are crowd-pleasers and kitchen-pleasers.
Steamed Shellfish with Wine, Tomato, Sausage & Herbs
3 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 dozen mussels, de- bearded and scrubbed
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 pound Italian sausage, crumbled
1 yellow onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 handful mixed fresh herbs, chopped (e.g. thyme, oregano, parsley)
1-2 pinches red pepper flakes
1. Heat olive oil in deep saute pan or heavy-bottomed pot and brown sausage.
2. Add onions and garlic; cook until soft.
3. De-glaze with white wine, making sure to scrape all the brown bits from the pan. Mix in can of tomatoes with juice, chopped herbs, and pepper flakes. Cook for a few minutes over medium heat.
4. Raise heat to high, dump in shellfish, and cover. Steam until shells open, several minutes.
Serve in bowls with toasted bread. Makes 2 dinner portions.