Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I don't really like clams. I have no qualms at all with eating the flesh of other organisms, or indeed their muscles, skin, flanks, bellies, thighs, legs, ground-up-everything-stuffed-into-their-own-intestines, ribs, wings, patties, pepperonis, and nuggets. But I turn up my nose at the idea of eating the entire organism, all of it, as in consuming the whole thing all at once including its mouth and kidneys and anus and whatever material is in its digestive tract that it didn't have a chance to excrete yet. I care fuck-all about the ethics -- I just think it's strange. Clams aren't nice animals. They hardly even qualify as living. They have the vaguest whisper of a nervous system and no other senses. A clam is a pink-white sac of involuntary chemical responses to external stimuli. They burrow in sand and eat plankton (capturing their food passively, by the way) and basically most of them is composed of some icky flaps of muscle used to feed and excrete, and that's it. A clam has one foot and no brain. On a good day, a clam looks and behaves like a gob of snot.
It might be their preparation. I don't mind fried clams or clam cakes. Anything tastes good deep-fried: it's the medium, not the message. I like clams in pasta. Again, this may be because of the pasta. Eaten raw (or alive, in other words, to the extent to which a smear of pink goo with no brain can be called "alive"), I've done that but I prefer not. Neither do I like clamboils, because there are very few meals that I like boiled anyway and in fact none are leaping to mind right now so I'm going to go ahead and say I don't like any boiled type of meal, period. When I think of clamboils, I think of steamed, soggy food, of slurping and smelly fingers and having to peel the black wrinkled membrane off the siphon and depositing it on the edge of a plate like a dead foreskin, of cups of milky and disgusting broth to wash off the shit and sand inside the clams, of never being able to do a good enough job and eating sand anyway.
I'd never cooked clams myself. When my dad gave the soggy-bottomed paper bag of clams to me, I had to ask what the hell I was supposed to do with them. I had a vague idea that I should put them in water so they could filter out whatever sand and muck was in their stomachs. After that, I was lost. Somehow I've gone 34 years living in New England without knowing how to cook clams. My mom said I should wait until the clams open just a crack and "catch them unawares," not difficult considering they don't possess awareness. Then while the clams were thus distracted I should sneakily slip a heavy knife between the halves of their shells and split them open. This seemed like a lot of work. One medium-sized clam contains about 10 calories.
It stressed me out. I didn't know how to make them and didn't really feel like eating them. I briefly considered lobbing them one by one into the river, but then I remembered I live near two power plants and thought it would be less cruel to eat them.
I found a recipe online that made cooking clams seem easier than lurking behind a bush and jumping out at them with a knife: heat some butter or olive oil in a pot, and saute some garlic. After a minute of that, drop the clams in there and pour a little wine over them. Turn up the heat and cover the pot, then go do something else for 4 minutes. Remove the lid and it's like magic: the clams should now be open and cooked and covered in sauce. Any clams that didn't open, throw out. Done. I threw some basil on them because it didn't seem like I'd worked enough.
They weren't bad. Nik agreed, and said they were "the best clams I've eaten in a long time." I'm curious about cooking them that way again, except with white wine this time (all I had was red) and maybe some more herbs. I'm more curious to try this with mussels, which is a creature that's also basically a blob of brainless snail-glop but which tastes better in my opinion. Should work delightfully. Although you don't get much for your money.