Surf clams are plentiful and cost-effective, so why aren’t they used more widely? They are currently used in mass for chopped clam products (like strips and minced), but what if we elevated them to center plate? I took an iconic rich and complex dish of Coquilles St Jacques and substituted the increasingly hard to find bay scallops with surf clams to see if we could really take them to the next level.
4 ea live surf clams, cleaned with juice and shells reserved (see instructions below)
3 T butter
¼ cup flour
1 cup surf clam juice
1 cup heavy cream
¼ t mustard powder
¼ French curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 package crimini mushrooms, stems removed and sliced thinly
2 large shallots, minced
½ c brandy
zest from 1 lemon
1/4 c grated gruyere
1/8 c sliced chives
1/8 c chopped parsley
(optional – 1/4c crisped pork belly or bacon)
Cleaning the surf clams
Rinse the clams extremely well. It is best to open in a shallow dish, so that collecting the liquid is easy. Run a paring knife against one shell near the siphon, separating the abductor muscle from the shell. Once the clam starts to give, run the knife along the same side of the shell where you started, going along until you reach the other side of the hinge. Remove the top shell and set aside – this will be one of the serving vessels. Run the paring knife along the other shell, releasing the clam meat in one piece. Save the abductor muscles, foot, and strip, discarding the belly and other membranes (see photo). Slice the foot horizontally, then slice thinly. The adductor muscles and strip can be roughly chopped. Set the meat aside and strain the juice through a fine sieve for the sauce.
Let’s get sauced
In a sauté pan, sweat the shallots in butter until soft over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt to brown. Once browned, turn the heat down to medium and deglaze the pan with the brandy, simmering until the alcohol has burned off. Set aside to cool.
In a small sauce pot, melt the butter over medium heat until it starts to bubble. Add the flour, whisking to combine. Allow the mixture to start to foam around the edges and then whisk in the clam juice. Once that is combined, slowly whisk in the cream, lowering the heat to just about a simmer to prevent burning. Once thick, add mustard powder, curry, salt and pepper. Remove from heat and add the mushrooms, taste and re-season as necessary.
Combine the panko, zest, cheese, herbs, (and pork) and stir to combine. Slowly add olive oil until the crumbs are lightly coated. Set aside at room temperature.
In a clean surf clam shell, add a small scoop of the clam meat, enough of the mushroom sauce to cover, and a generous amount of crumb mixture. Arrange the filled shells on a baking sheet that is lined with crumpled foil so they do not roll around. Broil until the sauce is bubbling and the crumbs are browned. The clams should be warm but not cooked through, otherwise they will be too tough.