HAPPY AS A CLAM Salty and zingy, Linguine vongole is sure to bring a smile to your face
Everybody is doing everything different nowadays, and it’s good to talk about it.
After listening to Ballymakenny farm on the radio, I bought 20kg of mixed purple potatoes from that will be posted down to me from the east of the country. Joe Kelly from Kiltimagh is now selling vegetable boxes and doing drop offs around Mayo. All around the west, people are discovering new contacts with food producers directly.
I had recently gotten some delicious fresh clams, mussels and oysters from Padraic Gannon during the low tides in Kilmeena. Hearing how his trade to restaurants had dried up I sent out a text the following week enquiring would anyone else like some shellfish. While social distancing, we all collected our orders and I’ve had nothing but positive feedback as people enjoyed these fresh, natural beauties right from our doorstep.
You’d pay a multiple what they cost us in any world-class or fancy restaurant, and the shellfish would not even be as fresh as we get them here. The last lot came straight from the tide that day!
Before my time, people used to boil mussels, cook their oysters and cook the bejaysus out of fresh produce from the sea. These days it’s different. I start mussels in a dry pan, try to eat only live oysters and do as little cooking as possible to fresh produce from the sea.
How did this happen? I owe my thanks to Angelo from La Bella Vita (it’s amazing how we return again and again to people who influenced us), who always cooked mussels in a hot dry pan with only a glug of oil and a lid to hand. As the mussels (or indeed clams) heated, they release delicious flavoured seawater, and this creates steam, which steam-cooks the shellfish and produces a beautiful stock or base liquid. That’s why it’s important to keep a lid on the pan, otherwise it takes longer to achieve and the shellfish can become over-cooked.
The other vital procedure is to clean the shellfish adequately first. This is not because they are dirty. It is about clearing away any natural grit or matter from these beautiful wonders.
I clean my shellfish in the sink – tip them in, run water over them while sifting with my hands, then I use a scrubber brush to rub them, and then give them a final rinse. Mussels should be scraped with the back of any knife to remove barnacles etc. as they can add a ‘taint’ to the cooking of left on shells.
I likewise rinse and scrub my oysters, as when they are opened I don’t like pieces to fall into the shells, this is avoided if the whole shells are cleaned well before opening.
One of my all time favourite dishes. So easy, and so tasty. Clams, mussels, shellfish impart a wonderful ‘minerality’ to the palate – extra enjoyment can be achieved from having a dryish drink to hand! A lot of the flavour seems to come from the shells, works of natural wonder, architecture and beauty in their own right.
What you need
- 1kg clams
- 400g linguine pasta
- 5 cloves garlic
- 2 long red chillies
- Olive oil
- Sprig of fresh parsley
What you do
Start to cook your pasta in strongly boiling salted water. Heat a glug of olive oil in a hot, wide frying pan or wok (don’t let this burn or smoke) then add your washed clams. Cover immediately.
Stir occasionally over the next three minutes while peeling and chopping your garlic into rough pieces, half the size of sweet corn pieces. Slice your washed red pepper more thinly; you can also slice it lengthways first of that’s your preference. As the clam’s liquid starts to gather in the pan, drop in your garlic and chilli. Sometimes I let it sit on top of shells for a minute before stirring it in. When the clams are all open you’re good to go (discard any that stayed shut) – add your pasta to the pan, sprinkle with parsley, season, stir and enjoy.
I love mussels with garlic and chilli, but they go particularly well with tomato and cream too. If using cream, I add it as soon as shells open, and I like it to bubble vigorously for a minute or two to reduce. All shellfish also goes exceptionally well with our own homemade Thai Curry Sauce that we sell from Cabots of Westport!
Shame on me, I have been preferring the introduced rock oysters to our ‘flatter’ native oysters. Opening them is an art, enjoying them simply with lemon or Tabasco is one of life’s best simple pleasures.
Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.