Even though clams are available throughout the year, most of my clam eating happens during the summer months. Clam bakes are a consummate summertime affair, after all, and chowder is a staple of the season for me.
Since most of us are staying close to home right now, I figured a big pile of clams is a perfect way to do a bit of armchair travel. The inspiration for these brothy bivalves comes by way of Spain, thanks to the smoky chorizo that’s essential to the dish. When simmered with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and wine, the chorizo infuses the broth with incredible flavor. Then it’s just a matter of adding a heap of clams, simmering until they open, and serving them in shallow bowls with plenty of broth.
It would be a crime to serve this meal without something to sop up all those gorgeous juices. Good, crusty bread like sourdough levain is the ticket. Cut it into thick slices, brush lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toast on a hot grill.
The fact that clams are on the affordable end of the seafood spectrum makes this recipe a budget-friendly way to travel the globe.
WHAT ARE THE BEST CLAMS FOR THIS RECIPE?
The first order of business is to get a hold of fresh clams.
This recipe was developed with littleneck clams in mind. They’re a medium-sized hard shell clam that is both meaty and tender. If you can’t find littlenecks, other varieties will work, too, such as cherrystones, steamers, and Manila.
HOW TO KNOW IF YOUR CLAMS ARE FRESH
One bad clam can ruin a whole pot, so when you’re ready to cook, give your clams a once over. Clams should be closed. If any are slightly ajar, tap them on the counter. If they close up, they’re good to go. If not, toss them, along with any cracked or broken ones.
Clams should be alive when you buy them and should stay that way until it’s time to get cooking. That’s why I aim to cook clams within a day or so of purchase, though they can keep for several days in the fridge. Once home, rinse them under running water, transfer to a bowl, cover with a moist dish towel, and refrigerate until you’re ready to cook.
HOW TO CLEAN CLAMS
There’s no shortage of opinions as to the best way to clean clams. Clams can be gritty creatures, full of the sand they filter for food.
These days, most commercially sold clams are held in tanks after they’re harvested, where they “purge” the sand before they head to market. In this case, no need for extra cleaning.
If you’re digging clams yourself (or buying from a small purveyor who may not clean them for you), soak them in a bowl of ocean water or cool, salted water covered with a dish towel for 30 minutes. You can keep the on the counter or move them to the fridge. It doesn’t matter either way. Then, rinse well before cooking, sloughing off any dirt with your thumbs
WHAT IS SPANISH CHORIZO?
Spanish chorizo is a hard, dry-cured sausage that looks a bit like pepperoni. It’s got an appealing chew and deep flavor that comes from smoked chiles (don’t confuse it with Mexican chorizo, which is typically fresh and requires cooking).
Spanish chorizo is excellent sliced and eaten out of hand, like you might hard salami, or worked into myriad dishes, from paella to patatas bravas. While it’s a rich and fatty food, it’s so full-flavored, a little goes a long way.
SWAPS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Canned vs. Fresh Clams: This recipe is intended for fresh clams. That being said, if fresh clams are nowhere to be found, use two 10-ounce cans of whole baby clams along with the juice of one can.
- No Pork, No Problem: For pescatarians and those who don’t eat pork, make this with a few ounces of a vegetarian chorizo, such as Soyrizo. Crumble it into the pan when you add the garlic, and break it up like taco meat until cooked through.
THE BEST WAY TO COOK CLAMS
This recipe uses a pretty classic method for cooking clams. You start by building a flavorful broth with onions, garlic, white wine, and chorizo. Once that’s done, add the clams, cover, and simmer until done.
Clams make it easy on the home cook, since they offer a built-in signal for when they’re cooked. As soon as the shells open up wide, the clams are ready. Remove the lid and serve.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH CHORIZO CLAMS
A simple, crisp lettuce salad tossed with a vinaigrette and what’s left of the wine you used for the clams are all you need to complete the meal.
If you really want to run with the Spanish theme, serve a bowl of romesco with crunchy vegetables to nibble on before dinner.
HOW TO REHEAT LEFTOVER CLAMS
You can reheat leftover clams in a pan on the stove over medium heat until warm. If you want to get creative with leftovers, remove the clams from the shells and spoon over cooked rice or spaghetti. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil. Delicious!
MORE DELICIOUS CLAM RECIPES!