Monday, June 28, 2010

Blood Clams (Blood Cockles)

The other night at a house warming BBQ, I made about 200 lbs. of swine, replete with pulled pork shoulder, ribs, hamburgers, coleslaw, caprese salad, green goddess salad, and a whole additional mess of tender vittles. The preparation took me at least 8 hours in total and I was wiped out by the end of the arduous process. Needless to say, when my friends Tinabelle & Co. arrived with a three pounds of mussels, shrimp, and blood clams and demanded, "cook these for us!," I complied only because they brought me an odd food in the form of blood clams. That, and eating something called "blood clams" is just kind badass. I mean, if I see something at the grocery store that has a dragon, viking, or some sort of medieval weapon motif, chances are strong that it'll end up in the shopping cart. Today's entry fits right into that category of stuff that dudes like. Here's a quick for instance in the extensive annuls of blood clam literature that would be entirely inaccurate:



(A 1600 PUB, somewhere in London. Early evening.
PURSEY, twenty-something English ponce replete in
French courtier style clothing, hesitates at the entrance,
where the smell of fresh seafood beckons passer-bys.)

Enter PURSEY into PUB, stage left.

(eyes a dish on the counter)
Blood clams?
(puts a pinky to his mouth)
Smells like a SAY-LOOOOOOR!

I'm just sayin'.

Blood clams (or blood cockles) are what are called "ark clams," a namesake accredited to their shape. I may be providing my reader with too much credit, but these mollusks resemble, gasp! You guessed it! An ark! Indigenous to the southwest Pacific Ocean, they are a Chinese and Vietnamese delicacy, but are also seen in other parts of Asia. The blood clam adopts its name from the reddish hue of the meat inside, a shade created from the presence of excess hemogoblin. The bivalve's unique sanguine properties allow it to live comfortably in its murky, oxygen depleted environment. In America the blood clam is often hard to find due to the fact that its banned from importation in the US from all but five countries. The reason? Oh, just the off chance of of hepatitis A and E, as well as typhoid and dysentery. Um, what?

Sidebar: If you were to come into someone's house with an item potentially replicating Pamela Anderson's clinic results, or say, will cause you to die on the toilet, TELL THEM. And that's all I have to say about that.

Happily oblivious to my eminent demise and not wanting to dilly dally when some hot BBQ was waiting to be slayed, I used the ingredients on hand to throw something together. This forcedly resourceful compromise consisted mostly of herbs for the salad dressing and, you know, beer. I mean, it was a BBQ, not a Mormon birthday party. I hope that doesn't offend you if you're Mormon. And I'm pretty sure if you are, you're not allowed to use computers anyway, so shame on you for reading this.

My rule of thumb with shellfish is: butter, alcohol, garlic, and herbs. Thus far, the combination has worked on a pretty epic scale, if I do say so myself. Just make sure you have some bread to soak up the delicious broth.

1 lb. blood clams
1 lb. hard clams (Quahogs)
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 small tomatoes, chopped
basil, 1 T chiffonade
tarragon, 2 tsp finely chopped
Italian flat-leaf parsley, 2 tsp finely chopped
chives, 2 tsp finely chopped
1 C Blue Moon or other beer (or white wine) of choice
1 stick unsalted butter, plus one pat
extra-virgin olive oil
fresh cracked black pepper
Sriracha (or other hot sauce) and lime wedges, to serve

Clean the clams. Any clams that are already open are dead, so get rid of them. Sit the rest in a colander or in a bag over ice, but keep your bag open. The clams are alive and need oxygen.

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the pat of butter and the shallots. Wait 1-2 minutes, then add the garlic. Wait 1 minute and add the tomato. Very lightly season and combine, stirring for another minute or 2. Add the beer, butter, and 2/3 of the herbs. When the liquid comes to a simmer, add the hard clams and cover. Wait 1-2 minutes, then add the remaining blood clams and lightly toss to coat. Wait a few minutes until the shells have steamed open, then add the remaining herbs. Toss again lightly, then serve with wedges of lime and hot sauce.

I'll admit it's not the greatest picture, but my hand was trembling with anger when the delicious broth from this clam spilled everywhere but my mouth.

The recipe worked out surprisingly well considering I'd only ever seen blood clams before. I've found that most people (myself included) usually cook mussels (which have a quicker steaming time than clams) when dealing with shellfish, so be sure to be patient if you're not used to the wait. The aroma that comes out of that pot alone is worth the extra couple of minutes. Blood clams are very interesting. And not like the "interesting" story your grandmother told you about her riveting social agenda. They're much meatier than most of their cousins, but with a definite ocean tang offset by the herbaceous butter broth. Due to the intertidal environment they thrive in, the clams have a slight hint of muddiness. Strangely enough, however, the flavor isn't that "blech!" muddiness that's present in swamp animals, but a clean sort of earthiness, or what the Japanese call umami. Due to their meaty nature, I would definitely use these again in a similar fashion. The broth, though very flavorful, was saltier than expected. I added no more than a tiny pinch of seasoning when trying to break down the tomatoes in the early stages of cooking, so I can only assume that the elevated sodium level came from the mollusks themselves due to their saltwater environment. Cut with a little cream, it would make an excellent (and heart attack inducing) sauce for pasta.

Author's Note: No Hepatitis A or E, typhoid, or dysentery was exposed or consumed in the making of this post. That came later.

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