An attentive, anxious cook is the one who may have the most luck at preparing clams that are truly tender. That's because the clams should come out of the pot just after their protein has set, says cookbook author Andrew Schloss. (What makes a clam open, or not open, during cooking? See the related TIP.)
"With clams, you're walking a tightrope," he warned us by phone last week from his home in Elkins Park, Pa. We took that as a challenge, following his advice to monitor the cooking clams closely and remove them in small amounts as they open, until they are all done. The smaller, hard-shell clams called for in this sofrito-inspired dish can indeed reach the tender stage in 10 minutes or less; if they have turned chewy, they've moved to the middle ground that heads toward toughville. Once there, the clams' protein can be cooked into submission, but that can take at least 30 minutes more -- sending them outside Dinner in Minutes territory.
Serve with a salad and crusty bread.
- 50 littleneck or Manila clams
- 2 medium red or green bell peppers
- 1 large onion
- 3 medium cloves garlic
- 3/4 cup prosciutto or cooked ham
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups canned diced tomatoes, with juice
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees; place a large, oven-proof serving bowl inside to warm.
Use a stiff brush to scrub the clams under cool running water, then place them in a large bowl of cold water while you work. Tap on any clams that are gaping open; if they don't close, discard them.
Stem and seed the bell peppers; cut the remaining flesh into small dice. Cut the onion into small dice and coarsely chop the garlic, keeping the garlic separate. Cut the prosciutto or ham into small dice.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium or medium-high heat. Add the diced peppers and onion; cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes with their juice, then the prosciutto or ham and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring as needed.
Carefully scoop the clams out of their soaking water (to leave all grit behind; discard the water) and add them to to the skillet; cover and cook for 5 minutes, then check to see whether any clams have opened and transfer those to the warmed serving bowl. Cover, cook for 4 minutes and remove any other clams that have opened. Cover and cook for 1 minute or until the remaining clams have opened. Transfer to the bowl, leaving any clams that have not opened in the pot. (Cover and remove from the heat; the clams may open with more time. If not, discard.)
Meanwhile, coarsely chop the cilantro leaves, discarding the stems.
Increase the heat under the skillet to high, bringing the liquid to a boil (uncovered); cook for 1 minute, then add the cilantro and remove from the heat. Swish around to combine, then pour over the clams. Serve the bowl immediately at the table, family-style.
Adapted from "2500 Recipes: Everyday to Extraordinary," by Andrew Schloss with Ken Bookman (Robert Rose, 2007).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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