Hood Canal Manila Clams with Spicy Orange Cilantro Butter

There is nothing I love more in the summer than exploring the hundreds of farmers markets that blanket the Northwest. They pop up everywhere, along roadsides, in parking lots, in front yards, in small towns, and in big cities.

The abundance is a feast for the senses and the heart. I have my favorites of course: Portland Farmers Market, Portland Hillsdale Farmers Market, and Seattle University District Farmers Market, to name three of the best.

But even the humblest markets can yield unexpected treasures and perhaps something you will find nowhere else. When we drove into the Port Orchard Farmers Market on the Olympic Peninsula this past weekend, it was beginning to rain and decidedly dreary. There weren’t many vendors on hand.

Not exactly promising, and I noticed MauiJim let his camera dangle loosely around his neck, whereas he usually has it glued to his face. He had resigned himself to the apparent lack of possibility.

But I don’t give up that easily. It may not have been a photographer’s dreamscape but there were treasures for the determined.

By the time we hopped back into the car an hour later, cold and exhilarated, we had discovered some fantastic ice cream and bought a pound of “hybrid” cherries (a cross between Rainer and Bing), two pink hydrangeas, six coral coreopsis, fresh sage and cilantro, garlic on the stem, and four pounds of manila clams. Not bad for a little market on the distant shores of Puget Sound.

Then meandering along the scenic roads back to the tiny village of Allyn, where we are happily ensconced for the summer, I pondered what to do with those gorgeous clams. I had garlic and cilantro in hand and remembered that there were a few oranges in the frig. I thought about throwing together my Homemade Mexican Chorizo to give the clams a smoky flavor but nixed that because I have not yet shared the recipe with you. Smoked Spanish paprika would lend a hint of smoke instead.

We were hungry, so luckily the dish went together quickly, the majority of time spent soaking the clams. These may well be the best steamed clams I have ever eaten. We devoured the entire four pounds between the two of us. And thanks to a loaf of hot, crusty French bread, all of the sauce was consumed as well.

A tip of the hat to shellfish vendor, Tom Farmer, of Tom Farmer Oyster Company for scoffing at our request for 1 pound of clams. He said, “Are you kidding? These are amazing. You need at least 4 pounds.” Which, of course, we did.

Hood Canal Manila Clams with Spicy Orange Cilantro Butter

I know most inland folks probably never get beyond the occasional treat of clams steamed with wine and garlic, and served with melted butter. When the clams are incredibly fresh and treated with care (steamed briefly and served immediately), that is truly one of the best dishes on earth.

But in the Northwest, we are blessed with an abundance of succulent, plump clams nearly year-round. So eventually, the thought occurs to the adventurous cook that there must be other great ways to prepare them. This delectable dish is the result of just such a thought.

4 pounds small manila clams (6-8 dozen), kept cold in the frig, with air to breath

2 tablespoons cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, skinned and chopped (2 cups chopped)
2 cups dry white wine (such as a Northwest Pinot Grigio)

Spicy Orange Cilantro Butter
½ cup (1 cube) unsalted butter, cool room temperature
finely grated zest of 1 large orange
handful cilantro leaves (stems discarded)
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
½ teaspoon hot, smoked Spanish paprika
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

chopped cilantro
thin shreds of orange peel (I use this tool)

hot, crusty French bread

  1. No less than ½ hour and no more than 1 hour before cooking, remove the clams from the frig, scrub them under cold running water, put them in a large bowl or clean sink, and cover with cold water. Clams need at least ½ hour in the water to release any sand trapped in their shells.

NOTE   If you suspect that your clams may be sandy, after soaking, steam a couple of them separately to check this before proceeding with the recipe. Once in a blue moon, I run into a sandy batch of clams that require separate steaming. If this happens to you, simply rinse the steamed clams to remove the sand and then proceed with the recipe. You will of course lose the clam juice, but that is preferred to a sauce full of sand.

  1. In the meanwhile, over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan or stovetop casserole.
  2. Add the chopped onion, and cook slowly until the onions are softened and translucent, but not browned, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the wine and reduce by half. Remove from the heat and reserve.
  4. While the onions are cooking, make the Spicy Orange Cilantro Butter. In a processor, combine the butter, orange zest, cilantro, garlic, paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt. Pulse to finely chop and combine the ingredients. Reserve.
  5. To prepare the clams, put the pan with the sautéed onions back on the stove over medium-high heat, add the scrubbed clams, and cover. After the liquid comes to a boil, it will take about 5-7 minutes for the clams to open. As soon as most of the clam shells are open, remove from the heat. Remove any clams that did not open.

NOTE   Clams become tough when overcooked. Be sure to remove them from the heat as soon as most of them are open. You can also remove those clams that are open and give the remaining clams a few more minutes to see if they will open too.

  1. Quickly combine the clams with the Spicy Orange Cilantro Butter, garnish with chopped cilantro and orange peel, and serve with plenty of hot, crusty bread.

Serves 2-4.

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Copyright 2012 Susan S. Bradley. All Rights Reserved.

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