One thing learning how to hunt and fish has given me is a real sense of pride in providing for myself. I know I still buy a large majority of my groceries from the super market, and I am not trying to say I go out and cut all my own wood to heat my home. I am not suddenly “living off the grid.” But I do know I am developing into someone who appreciates knowing where my food is coming from. This year, I opted to grow a larger garden, and have learned how to process and can much of what I harvest. I rarely buy beef from the super market because I have my own supply of elk, deer and pronghorn. It is very satisfying!
When I visited my sister in Washington this past month, I was excited to see what new things I could catch, prepare, and make a fantastic meal from. My sister lives along a bay in the Puget Sound. She essentially has the ocean at her backdoor and access to an abundance of amazing seafood, such as oysters, crabs, salmon, mussels, and clams. We spent a morning while the tide was out digging for creatures in the mud flats. Our catch was plentiful. We prepared Kumamoto oyster shooters one night and a manila clam pasta another. Seafood, in my opinion, is always a treat, but nothing can compare to fresh caught seafood.
Manila clams are actually an imposter to the Washington ocean ecosystem. They are native to Japan and were accidentally introduced to the salty seas of the Washington coast line in oyster shipments. They can be found all along the Pacific coast line of the United States, and are actually a welcome addition to the waters because they are delicious! The clams are identified by their oval shaped shells with heavy ridge lines running the horizontal length of the shell.
The worst part about eating clams is the sand! Nothing, and I mean nothing, is worse than biting into the tender meat of a clam and feeling that sand grind between the surfaces of your teeth. I can’t count the bowls of clam chowder I have had ruined by sand. So awful! On that note, you can see why it is very important to properly clean the clams. Clams are siphon eaters. Through their little bi-valve systems, they filter in sand and separate out tiny micro-organisms. To clean out this sand, place the clams in a bucket and cover it with salt water. You can use freshwater, but the clams can only be in freshwater for a certain amount of time before they die, usually no more than a couple of hours. Let the clams sit in the bucket for at least an hour. I let mine hang out overnight. During this time, the clams will continue to filter feed, but since there is not any sand in the bucket, they will only filter in water and will push out the sand still hanging out in their system. This works great! After you have let the clams filter for a while, be sure to scrub off the outside shells too.
You also want the clams to be alive before you cook them. Dead clams can make you sick. So, after cleaning the clams, look for open shells. If you tap the clam gently against a hard surface it should close. Any shells that do not close should be discarded.
Preheat the barbecue with a large mound of coals. You want the grill hot and the heat in the center.
In a large aluminum pan, pour in a cup of white wine, half a cup of extra virgin olive oil (go for the good stuff!), five cloves of minced garlic, and a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. Add the cleaned clams to the pan and cover with aluminum foil. Let the pan cook on the grill for ten minutes.
While the clams are roasting away, start a pot of water for the linguine. You could actually use whatever type of pasta you fancy: spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccini. I went with linguini because it is a bit thicker than spaghetti and that seemed like a good idea with an oil based pasta sauce. Cook the pasta until it is al dente, which just means that the pasta is still firm when you bite into it, and not overly mushy.
After ten minutes, pull the foil from the clams and give everything a quick stir. Return the foil cover and allow the clams to cook an additional ten minutes. By this time, the clams should mostly be ready. Pull out all the clams that have opened. If there are any remaining closed clams, allow them to continue cooking a few more minutes. If they still do not open, discard them. They are bad clams! Reserve all the liquid from the pan, as this will be your pasta sauce.
Place the pasta into a large bowl and top it with the clams. Pour the juices from the aluminum pan over the pasta and clams. Sprinkle chopped basil leaves over the entire dish. Finally, squeeze the juice of half a lemon and you are ready to eat!
I have to say it: this dish was so amazing! I was really, really impressed with how delicious it was. Manila clams are very sweet in flavor and have a wonderful texture. But for me, the best part was the broth that was created from steaming the clams over the grill. The salty seawater from the clams mingled with the dry white wine and the olive oil creating a beautiful sauce. The best way I can describe it is it tastes like the ocean. It is fantastic!