Lambs + Clams Round 2: Smoky Clam, Chorizo and Butternut Squash Stew with Saffron Aioli and Fried Oyster Croutons

Lambs + Clams Contest – Round 2
Ingredient Challenge: Rappahannock River Oysters and Clams

It’s not often, er, ever, that I receive a box of East coast shellfish delivered to my California front door – that is until 10 days ago when a special delivery box arrived with 4 dozen pristine oysters and middle neck clams from Rappahannock River Oysters in Virgina. They were as fresh as could be, cold and moist, smelling of seaweed and sand. A taste of the East lay at my feet. This was simply not fair.

~
While I now live in California, and before that called Europe my home, I am a New Englander at heart. And I miss it. This is evident by how I gravitate to environments and sensations that remind me of a place I haven’t called home since 1991. I crave 4 distinct seasons, and reminisce wintry blizzards, humid summers, and the smell of fallen leaves with chimney smoke hanging in the air. I seek vignettes suspiciously similar to a traditional New England setting, old structures and neighborhoods steeped in history, creaking with wood, lined with cobblestones. And the sea must never be far away. Nothing epitomizes New England to me more than the seashore – especially on a chilly foggy day laden with mist, with the cries of seagulls and the clanging of buoys punctuating the sound of the wind and waves.

So there I was, a week ago, with 2 nets of memories before me in the form of shellfish, still moist from their beds, gritty with sand, smelling of brine and salt. It transported me to New England, and I knew that I would have to do them justice. I headed to my kitchen – the heart of our family home and life, no matter the coast or the country. The place where I go to recreate memories, carry on traditions and evoke sensations of time and place.

The oysters and clams were ridiculously fresh, and I knew I had to get to work fast. (OK, I admit a few oysters were instantly slurped straight up with a squeeze of lemon and dash of Tabasco. Hey, you would’ve too). I thought about how to create one recipe showcasing both oysters and clams, drawing inspiration from the East coast, while embracing my adopted West coast sensibilities – with a touch of the Mediterranean. I am a fan of chowders and cioppinos, and I decided on a stew, with layers of flavor and texture. It’s autumn after all, the season of layers – layers of clothing, layers of bedding and layers of nourishing, sating ingredients in our meals.

Each ingredient would stand out yet complement the whole of the stew, with a balance of sweet, smoke, heat and brine. I addressed each ingredient separately before uniting them, taking care to prevent a muddle. I browned the chorizo slices first for color and flavor. They would be added to the stew in the end, preventing softening and loss color by overcooking in the soup. Their legacy, the flavorful oil, remained in the pot infusing the stew with heat and smoke. I sautéed planks of sweet butternut squash in the oil. This step ensured the squash were thoroughly cooked and slightly caramelized. The chunks would be added in the end, like the chorizo, avoiding excessive mushiness and preserving their brilliant saffron color. Roasting the red pepper coaxed out its natural sugars and imparted another layer of smoky flavor to the soup. The clams cooked in the stew, opening and releasing their briny juices in the stock. Finally, I fried the oysters, first soaked in buttermilk and Sriracha, then rolled in cornmeal, ensuring super-crispy results with a playful bite. They would garnish the stew as a riff on croutons one might add to a Mediterranean seafood stew with a definite nod to the American south. A spoonful of saffron scented aioli added a creamy finish to the soup with the kick of heat.


Smoky Clam, Chorizo and Butternut Squash Stew with Saffron Aioli and Fried Oysters Croutons

Serves 4.

Aioli:
1/2 cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce

Oyster Croutons:
16 shucked oysters
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Stew:
Extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces Spanish-style chorizo sausage, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 small butternut squash, cut in chunks, approximately 1 1/2-inch square, 1/2-inch thick
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 sweet red pepper, roasted, peeled, cut in 1/4 inch julienne
2 large garlic cloves
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
12 to 16 middle neck clams
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Vegetable oil for frying
Fresh chopped Italian parsley leaves for garnish

For the aioli:
Whisk together all of the ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.

For the oysters:
Place the oysters in a small bowl. Whisk buttermilk and Sriracha in a separate bowl. Pour over the oysters to cover and set aside. Whisk the cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper together in another bowl and set aside.

For the stew:
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage slices, in batches, and brown on both sides, turning once. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Add the squash, in batches, to the skillet and pan fry until golden on both sides, turning once. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon oil from the pan. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and onion. Sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add red pepper, garlic, paprika and red chili flakes. Sauté until fragrant, 1 minute. Add wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits. Add tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme. Simmer, uncovered, until somewhat thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Add clams. Cover pot and cook, shaking occasionally, until clam shells open, about 10 minutes. (Discard any unopened clam shells). Add salt to desired taste.

While the stew is simmering, fill a large heavy saucepan with 2 inches of vegetable oil. Heat over medium-high heat until a deep fry thermometer reads 350 F. Remove the oysters from the buttermilk, shaking off any excess liquid. Dredge in cornflour. Fry in batches, without overcrowding, until golden and crispy, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel

Ladle the stew into warm serving bowls. Top each bowl with 4 oysters. Spoon a little saffron aioli into the center of the soup. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

What is Lambs + Clams?
A contest hosted by the Charleston Food and Wine Festival where 8 food bloggers create a recipe in 4 monthly contests leading up to the festival to be held in February ’13. Each contest will spotlight either lamb, clams or oysters supplied by Craig Rogers of Border Springs Farm and Travis Croxton of Rappahannock River Oysters. Each month a winning recipe will be selected by a panel of judges and fan votes (which do indeed count) on the Festival’s facebook page. The winner is awarded an all-expense paid trip to the Festival. I encourage you to visit the facebook page and cast your vote!

And visit my fellow food bloggers and check out their recipes:
Peter@A Cook Blog; Olga@Mango Tomato; David@eat drink RI; Gwen@Bunkycooks; Heather@Farmgirl Gourmet; Cecilia@One Vanilla Bean; Vivek@Vivek’s Epicurean Adventure

 

21 responses to “Lambs + Clams Round 2: Smoky Clam, Chorizo and Butternut Squash Stew with Saffron Aioli and Fried Oyster Croutons

  1. I think this is my favorite post and recipe of the year – I mean it.

  2. A fabulous combination! So flavorful.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  3. mostly, being a girl from the sea myself but having no shellfish in my net, I liked this for the saffron aioli.. that is inspired – the shellfish i will keep until i am home.. in a month.. ahuh.. c

  4. What a wonderful recipe, and such a beautifully written post. I may not be a New Englander by birth, but I am by virtue of all the years I lived there, and yearn for four distinct seasons too. I love that you soaked the oysters in buttermilk and sriracha before preparation – is that for flavor only, or does that affect their texture too? And Good Luck! On my way to the fan page now!

  5. Now that’s what I call a crouton! Love what you’ve made here, just perfect.

  6. How incredible is this dish.. with a title so long, I knew it had to be a culinary genious of a creation! Your writing tugged at my heart.. I really felt your connection to your roots. This makes this recipe even more precious. Fantastic!! On my way to the facebook page!! xx

  7. Hmmm.. the page just says Round Two begins on Monday Nov. 5th.. what should I do to vote?? xx

  8. How Very Yummie :-), and elegant

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  10. Their facebook page for lambs and clams is just saying the round2 is starting on Nov5

  11. Lambs and clams is so fun to say! I too love the changing of the seasons. However, in the part of PA in which we line, we have 5 months of summer, 1 month of autumn, 5 months of winter, and 1 month of spring. I’d like just a little more balance. The changing of the seasons reminds me that we’re all alive, so I can’t really complain.

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  14. As a New Englander now, I would say that your recipe did the region proud. Your recipe sounds like something I will be trying once life is back to normal from my travels in Europe and my refrigerator is replenished.

  15. I love your pictures and I would love for you to join and share your pictures with us at foodepix.com

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