• Stir It Up: For festive summer fare: mollusks
     | May 16,2014
    Photo by Jody Horton

    Garlic and wine are all that’s needed to turn fresh clams into a feast. The photo and recipe are from “Jon Bonnell’s Waters: Fine Coastal Cuisine.”

    Winter is a time for craving stews and roasts, big, hearty pieces of meat with plenty of “jus” to sop up with hunks of bread, but summer sings a different song. Got fish?

    If you are not a confident cook when it comes to fish, you might want to start with shellfish. Specifically, mollusks (clams, oysters, mussels and scallops). Here’s why.

    One: Most mollusks don’t need much by way of preparation. They don’t have to be gutted or scaled. Some, like oysters and certain types of clams, can simply be opened and eaten, with maybe a squirt of lemon juice and a grind of black pepper or a shake of hot sauce. Cooking mollusks requires minimal preparation, maybe some chopping of garlic and pouring of white wine.

    Two: Clams, oysters, scallops and mussels are festive fare. An offering of raw oysters can turn a ho-hum gathering into a party; a plate of steamed mussels makes your kitchen smell like a French bistro. Cook anything with clams, and your guests will feel like they are sitting dockside; offer scallops, and they will feel like they are actually on or even in the sea.

    Three: Most mollusks are considered sustainable seafood. That means that the way they are harvested and farmed is not harming the environment or jeopardizing future harvests. An organization called Seafood Watch offers recommendations at seafoodwatch.org on how to choose sustainable fish; it rates clams, oysters, mussels and scallops as “good” or “best” choices.

    The only downside to shellfish is that some people are allergic to them. This, of course, is serious business. Check with the folks who will be dining with you before you cook.

    A beautiful new book by Fort Worth, Texas, chef Jon Bonnell, from his new restaurant Waters, is just out. Bonnell, an avid sport-fisherman and conservationist, makes an impassioned plea for quotas and regulations set “to keep the public safe and the wild fish populations healthy for generations to come.” He urges consumers to avoid “fish from foreign countries with too-good-to-be-true prices.”

    Although Bonnell’s new book offers recipes for many kinds of seafood, it has a come-hither photo of garlicky clams on the cover and other simple, irresistible mollusk preparations inside. Here are two.

    Steamed Clams In Garlic Butter

    Yield: 2 servings

    2 pounds live clams (littlenecks, cherrystone, top neck or mahogany clams)

    3 tablespoons butter

    4 cloves garlic, minced

    2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

    1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

    Pinch of hot smoked paprika

    Juice of 1 small lemon

    1 ounce white wine

    1 ounce dry (white) vermouth

    Wash and scrub the clams under cold running water to remove any grit from the shells. Discard any clams with broken shells or those that won’t stay closed when tapped.

    In a heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter and saute the garlic until it begins to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the parsley, cilantro, paprika, lemon juice, wine and vermouth, and simmer for 2 full minutes. Add all the clams to the pot. Cover and steam until the shells open, roughly 5 to 6 minutes (see note). Discard any that refuse to open. Serve hot with broth and plenty of crusty bread for dipping.

    Note: I like to steam the clams until they open, then steam for 1 to 2 minutes more so they are quite firm.

    Grilled Scallop Kebabs On Rosemary Skewers

    Yield: 3 or 4 servings

    3 or 4 large sprigs fresh rosemary (with thick stems)

    12 large diver scallops (fewer than 15 per pound)

    Kosher salt

    2 tablespoons olive oil

    2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme

    2 sprigs fresh tarragon

    2 sprigs fresh dill

    4 to 6 leaves fresh basil

    1 stick butter, softened

    ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    Prepare a grill for direct cooking over high heat.

    Remove a few of the rosemary leaves from the stems and set aside. Soak the stems in cold water for at least 30 minutes. Weight them with a fork to keep them under water.

    Remove any small side muscle that may be attached to the scallops, then pat them dry with a paper towel. Skewer three or four scallops onto each stem, leaving a little space between them. Season lightly with salt, then brush with a light coating of olive oil. Set aside.

    Chop the reserved rosemary leaves with all other fresh herbs. Combine in a small pot with the butter; add pepper and salt to taste. Warm gently and keep warm.

    Grill the scallops, about 3 minutes per side, turning carefully. Watch to make sure the scallops cook and the rosemary does not get too burned. Remove from grill and brush heavily with the herbed butter and serve immediately.

    (Recipes from “Jon Bonnell’s Waters: Fine Coastal Cuisine”; Gibbs Smith, 2014)

    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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