When summer fades and the season tilts to autumn, this steamy bowl of buttery clams hits the spot.
I experienced a bowl like this one day last fall. I was researching a travel story on the northern coast of the Olympic peninsula in Washington. If there’s a furthermost corner of the northwest U.S., then this is it. The peninsula is dominated by the Olympic National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which sprawls several ecosystems, including mountainous peaks and old-growth forests. Numerous cultural, archeological, and historic sites are woven throughout the landscape, spanning millennia of human occupation from indigenous first cultures to more recent histories of exploration, homesteading, and community development.
On this trip of discovery, the weather was gray, foggy, and misty with intermittent (i.e. frequent) rain showers in true Pacific Northwest form. Yes, it was seasonally wet (the fall season brings the rain). It was also magical, mystical, and magnificent. The horizon loomed with teetering mountains, shrouded in swirls of clouds and fog and bedecked with garlands of waterfalls cascading into serpentine lakes. It was desolate, due in part to the weather and also the season. I had the roads to myself snaking through canyons, interrupted occasionally by logging trucks barreling past and shocking me out of my reverie. I hiked to a ridge, rain be damned, with distant views to British Columbia, through a mist-laden rain forest lush with moss. I traced a river to a roaring crescendo of water tumbling from a precipitous ledge, and I saw salmon spawn.
By the end of the day, cold, soggy, and famished, I returned to sea level to a small fishing town anchoring the mountains to the sea. There were no restaurants open at 4 pm, but for one lone storefront illuminated in the drizzle, with a fish market that provided counter service, where I ordered a simple bowl of garlicky clams steamed in wine and swimming in their buttery juices, buttressed with slabs of garlic bread for soaking up the sweet broth. The singular accompaniment was an icy glass of snappy local riesling. It was perfect.
Since then, I’ve recreated this dish at home a number of times. It’s simple and consistently rewarding. The only thing missing is the weather.
Butter and Garlic Clams
Littleneck clams are my preferred type of clam for this recipe. They are the smallest Quahog clam with sweet and tender meat. Depending on their size, one pound yields 8 to 12 clams. When cleaning clams, discard any opened clams or clams with broken shells before washing. Rinse the clams under cold water, gently scrubbing them clean. Once cooked, discard any unopened clams before serving.
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Serves 2 to 4
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups un-oaked white wine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds littleneck clams, about 24, rinsed and scrubbed clean
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
Lemon wedges for serving
1. In a large deep skillet with a lid melt the butter with the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt and black pepper. Bring to a simmer and add the clams. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low, and steam the clams until the shells have opened, shaking the pan from time to time, 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the size of the clams.
2. Remove the lid and discard any unopened clams. Taste the broth and season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Divide the clams and cooking liquid between serving bowls and garnish with the parsley. Serve immediately with garlic bread or crusty bread.