By Paul Suplee,
MBA, CEC, PC-3
It is finally autumn. Thank the good lord.
Toe heads are all celebrating the easing off the SPF 50, relishing in the weather that makes this area so splendid to inhabit.
Grilling on the beach is so much more fun this time of year — or at least to me. The air is crisp, the ocean is still warm enough to go in, the crabs are getting fatter, the tourists are fewer and further between and the clams are at their prime.
Now before I go any further, I know that I am going to start a battle of wills here, although I’m not sure how many of my readers are actually named Will. I’m not sure that I ever thought of that. Suffice it to say, this is an argument for the ages: top necks, middle necks, or those stupid itty-bitty littlenecks.
If you can’t figure out which camp I’m in, rest assured I will not be partnering up with you in any sort of survival situation. I’ll leave you be just to see how far you get. And yes, I am in the top neck camp; those big, chewy clams that not only taste like something but also have a bite.
Littlenecks are, to me, a waste of money and yes I understand that I am in the vast minority. I don’t care. I grew up eating top necks, manoes and razors and all the other delightful clams that many people look at and turn a nose up to. I guess it runs in the blood, because my father adored them as well.
Now that we have that out of the way, or more to the fact that I just started the argument, let’s talk about another little thing that I love with steamed clams (yes these are grilled but in essence they are steamed in their own shells). That little piece of magic is brown butter, or beurre noisette as the French call it.
This is a carefully cooked butter that introduces nuances of toasted hazelnuts, a layer of flavor that you may not honestly expect would go well with steamed clams. But, let me tell you. It is magical what this simple one-ingredient addition makes to a pile of clams whether they be large, medium size or stupid size.
A couple of our regulars at the Reel Inn in 2012 turned me on to this little trick and I have yammered about it ever since. Trust me, you’ll like it.
And as for the cooking portion, all you need is a grill. Why? Well, because that’s what is in the picture. And because this time of year is absolutely lovely for grilling on the beach, I use a gas grill because I don’t have time to be a purist all the time. Simply fire it up and grill away. Of course, not everyone is a clam fan, so just cook the burgers, chickens and dogs ahead of time and keep them warm in a small cooler until everything is ready.
Make sure you read about purging the clams in the recipe. This is very important as no one likes sandy clams. Other than that, this ranks up there as one of my simplest recipes.
And so a toast to autumn: You’re finally here. Keep the pumpkin spice, I’ll take the clams.
makes 3 dozen clams
3 dozen fresh clams, the size of your liking
Salt water to cover
Brown butter, as needed (recipe follows)
Seafood Seasoning (optional)
- The best way to serve fresh steamed clams is after purging them. Since clams live in the sand, they tend to be… wait for it… sandy. So, simply soak them overnight in salt water, and the clams will purge the sand in their system. Do this in the refrigerator, or if you happen to be on a body of saltwater somewhere, you can hang them in a burlap sack or the bag you may have purchased them in and let them sit and purge naturally
- Once they are purged, heat up the grill, throw them on and cook until they pop open. It is literally that simple
- Serve with brown butter and seasoning if you like and have at it
makes about 1 c.
1 lb. whole unsalted butter
- Melt the butter making sure not to have it at a rapid boil, because you want to be able to skim the top layer off
- When the butter is melted and hot, and has separated into three layers, skim the top portion and discard
Turn the butter down but make sure there is still some convection. What is happening here is the water that was emulsified into the butter is now at the bottom and boiling off, aka evaporating
- When this all cooks away, there will be milk solids in the bottom that will begin to brown and this is where the magic happens
- Monitor this carefully as you want brown butter and not burnt butter
- Once it has a good, strong hazelnut aroma and a nice darker color, remove from the heat as it will keep cooking
- Allow it to sit to cool and settle down a bit
- Strain through cheesecloth and you will have brown butter. And I promise you this, you have never had better steamed clams than you will with this
Paul Suplee is the owner of Boxcar40 in Pittsville and senior lecturer of culinary arts at UMES.