Living in Southern New Jersey, when my siblings and I were kids, we looked forward to the summer afternoons when my dad occasionally bought a big bag of clams on his way home from work.
Standing at the kitchen sink, he set to work opening them one by one with a small knife, as the five of us lined up along the kitchen cabinets for our turn to taste the briny seafood. While we waited, we watched him skillfully poke the tip of his knife between the shells and slit the seal. Juice trickled down his arm, and he quickly swiped it away with a rough gray work rag.
After he pried open the clam and topped it with a dab of ketchup or spicy red cocktail sauce (our choice), he handed the dripping shell to the first one in line. The juicy, slippery pink-gray meat was nestled on the pearly shell. As soon as we slurped down the sweet, salty clam that tasted of the ocean, we’d head to the back of the line, waiting for our next turn. As we fidgeted through the line, he occasionally sneaked a clam into his mouth.
I can’t think about clams without smiling at this memory. Although I still love clams, I’ve never been able to master the trick of opening them. Also, I no longer eat raw seafood because of potential infection concerns that we didn’t know about when I was a child. However, cooked clams have many health benefits. They are rich in protein, iron, vitamin B12 and other nutrients. Plus, depending on how you prepare them, they are low in fat.
There are lots of ways to prepare clams without struggling to open them with a knife. For example, I have dropped scrubbed clams into bubbling pasta sauce, where they open and release their sweet juice. I also tried this tasty Williams-Sonoma recipe with clams, fennel and broccoli rabe several years ago.
Now that the days are growing warmer and we look forward to beach days, I have started to crave clams. I decided to roast some for dinner one evening.
Discarding clams that were open or had cracked or broken shells (which are unsafe), I scrubbed about two dozen middle neck (middle size) clams, soaked them in salt water about 30 minutes, drained them and soaked them again, repeating a few times. I placed the drained clams in a pan, covering them with a mixture of ½ c. dry white wine, 1 T. extra virgin olive oil, four cloves of crushed garlic, and ¼ c. chopped parsley. I covered the pan tightly with foil and baked them at 425ºF until the shells opened (approximately 20 to 25 minutes). (Clams that do not open should be discarded.)
When I uncovered them, they had made their own garlicky broth that we could sop up with slices of multigrain bread.
So delicious, and the beach seemed so much closer!