5 Simple Tips to Take Your Spaghetti with Clams (and Mussels) from Good to Great


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Clams and mussels pasta - close up

Sometimes the simplest of dishes are the hardest to master. Not because they are hard to make (because then they wouldn’t be simple) but because the simplicity of the dish makes it easy to taste simple mistakes.

There are two dishes that absolutely define this oxymoron for me pasta with tomato sauce and spaghetti with clams (and mussels). We’ll do the latter because I’ve been craving it for weeks.

FYI – This recipe works perfectly with just clams (but it’s also delicious with the mussels). Feel free to mix it up as you wish.

1. Use awesome ingredients
You have to start out with fresh seafood for this dish. There are so few other ingredients which makes it hard to hide any coop outs… like the liquid from the can/bottled stuff. That not so fresh taste is easier to hide in a tomato based sauce. In this one it will just ruin your dish.

2. Get rid of the grit
No one wants spaghetti and sand for dinner! And well that is unfortunately a definite possibility when making this dish. After all clams spend their lives nestled in the sand siphoning water away. If you are a lucky soul your fishmonger sells them pre-purged. If not here are two links with detailed instructions on how best to clean your clams and mussels.

3. Watch the salt
The clams and mussels will still naturally contain some of the salt from the ocean. So you probably won’t have to add any to your sauce. If you do add any salt do so at the very end, after tasting. Add salt to the pasta water as usual.

4. Cook it just right
Over cooked clams and mussels just aren’t good. They get rubbery and tough. Fortunately, it’s very easy to know when your clams and mussels are done. Add closed bivalves to a hot pan. The minute they open, they’re done!

5. Add flour
Now this tip is the real show stopper. I discovered this tip on the Cavoletto di Bruxelles blog. And I swear it’s revolutionary. I’m so surprised I haven’t seen it in more recipes for spaghetti with clams. If you click on the link you’ll see that the blog is in Italian. But that’s why you have me to translate. Basically, the blogger goes to her fishmonger asking for clams. The fishmonger says to add flour. Why she asks. He says because it helps the sauce stick to the pasta. And it works!

Clams and mussel pasta

6 oz (170g) spaghetti or other long pasta
2 lbs (1kg) mixed live clams and mussels
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus some for serving
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup white wine
pinch (or more) ground hot peperoncino
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Serves: 2 – Cook time: approx. 20 minutes
(plus time to purge and cleans clams and mussels)

1. Discard any clam and mussels that are cracked or that don’t remain closed when tapped lightly. (Which means they are dead or sick, by eating them you risk food poisoning. Not cute!) Purge clams. De-beard mussels right before ready to cook. Scrub both clean as necessary.

2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Once at a full boil add salt and cook to 1-2 minutes under package pasta al dente time. Drain

3. While water is coming to a boil, add one tbsp of olive oil, 1 garlic clove, wine, mussels and clams to a large pan. Cook on medium high heat for about 5-10 minutes, removing seafood from pan with tongs or a slotted spoon as they open. Discard any seafood that does not open once cooked. Set aside water that is released from seafood, discarding garlic clove.

4. Remove meat from 1/2 – 2/3 of opened clams and mussels, placing the meat in a small bowl and discarding the shells. Skip this step if you are pressed for time or just can’t be bothered….

(I almost always do it in the kitchen since it annoys me to be trying to separate the bivalves with a fork and knife once I’m at the table. But I leave some in the shells because I think it looks prettier that way.)

5. Add 1 minced garlic clove, 3 tbsp olive oil, and ground peperoncino back into pan that contained clams. Cook for about 3 minutes on medium heat until fragrant being careful not to burn garlic. Add flour and liquid that was released from seafood to pan. Whisk until smooth. Add in spaghetti and parsley, cooking on medium low for 2-3 minutes. Add in clams and mussels (both with and without shells). Add black pepper to taste. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil if you’d like.

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