My dad's side of the family is from back East, so I grew up knowing that lobster was God and all other seafood held apostolic authority. After a few anatomy labs I couldn't bear to taste lobster given that its texture closely resembles human brain, but I'd still crunch my way through a table-sized platter of crab legs if given the opportunity. I only had clams a few times, in breaded-and-deep-fried form, so this experience of eating clams in the shell was very new to me.
I was curious to learn whether clams are considered a sustainable option. In the case of wild clams (and most everything else), stocks are declining, but a greater issue is serious damage to sea floor environments because of trawling, so farmed clams are generally considered a better option. (I'm not knee-jerk in favor of wild-caught fish in all cases. Though some farmed fish should absolutely be avoided, I'll consider all the evidence before making a choice on others.)
Clams are an amazing source of nutrients. A three-ounce serving (about 10 average-sized clams) contains 20 grams of protein and provides well over 100% of our daily need for iron and vitamin B-12. Clams are also high in vitamin A, selenium, other B-vitamins, vitamin C (though most of it is probably cooked off), zinc, and omega-3 DHA.
In terms of contaminants, the information is mixed. One page says, on the one hand, that clams "cannot tolerate the discharge of sewage or other toxins; the presence of clam farming, therefore, often results in increased awareness and monitoring of coastal waters for pollution control." Clams also "help to reduce greenhouse gases by removing carbon dioxide from the ocean for shell formation." But this site goes on to say, "clams are efficient accumulators of environmental contaminants such as heavy metals and have been used in some areas for habitat remediation from industrial pollution." Call me crazy, but seeing the words "efficient accumulators" and "industrial pollution" in the same sentence doesn't exactly set my mind at ease.
My verdict? Clams are tasty. Isaiah actually loves them, so much that he asked for them every day for over a week and even drew and cut out little clams to play with. Clams are an amazing source of important nutrients, including several that provide protection or healing from heavy metals or other contaminants. So I plan to continue buying them from good sources (domestic, and regional) and enjoying them in moderation.
The briny smell of cooking clams is absolutely delicious. This dish is rich and warming without being heavy. And it's fairly easy to put together, too. Choose clams that are tightly closed. They should smell salty without any hint of ammonia. If you buy wild clams, they will need to soak in several changes of water to spit out any sand they contain. With farmed clams, you can skip this step.
I've been cooking with (and drinking) wine much more frequently. I guess living in wine country is finally getting to me. Yesterday I watched an open hauling truck deliver thousands of pounds of white grapes to a local organic winery, and suddenly felt a craving for Chardonnay. That's very new for me. In this case, any sort of dry white wine will work. I can attest, living where I do, that wine grapes are an extremely harmful crop when grown conventionally, so choose organic or biodynamic if you have the option.
I'd imagine that a loaf of crusty sourdough would be perfect for sopping up those garlicky juices. Just don't tell me about it.
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bunch of spinach
1/4 c. parsley
3 c. cooked long-grain rice
Heat 2 T. olive oil in a small pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes,
until the onion is translucent.
Combine the onion, garlic, spinach, and parsley in a food processor. Blend until finely minced. Fold into cooked rice and season to taste with salt and pepper.
CLAMS IN WHITE WINE
2 T. pastured butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. dry white wine
2 lb. fresh clams
2 T. parsley, minced
1 lemon, sliced into wedges
Heat the butter over medium-low and add the garlic. Cook until just softened, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a low boil.
Put the clams in the pot and cover tightly. Steam the clams for about 4 minutes. Take off the lid and check that most have opened. If most are closed you can cover the pot again and steam for a couple more minutes. Discard any clams that don't open on their own.
Top each bowl of rice with a handful of clams. Ladle the wine sauce over the clams. Garnish with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.