Kids are like thoroughbred horses: ready to explode with nervous energy at the merest provocation, they need to be run hard and put away wet. Most parents find this out right quick. If you want peace in the valley, at least after dinner time, then you kick up dust during the day. I take my kids and their friends foraging all the time. They love to seek out hidden mother lodes of mushrooms, scramble around wooded creeks in search of tender spring greens, and dig holes in the sand in pursuit of clams. Besides being a strategy for a conflict-free bedtime, it’s also what you might call a learning experience.
Seeing as I’m a solo parent this weekend while Marty concocts her deathless verse at some top-secret island hideaway, I needed projects to occupy the half-pints. The clam beach beckoned. Though we arrived only a half hour after low tide, it was a high low (8 feet) and already most of the beach was underwater. Oysters were out of the question. The great thing about Manila clams, however, is that they’re often available high in the intertidal zone. And while these ones were smaller than the clams we usually find at lower tides, barely legal in fact at less than two inches, it occurred to me that this was the size littleneck I most frequently see in Asian restaurants.
The reason for the small clams is readily apparent if you make a black bean sauce. The minced garlic and ginger, along with the mashed bits of fermented black beans, balance perfectly with a sweet, tender clam that isn’t chewy in the least, and the shell holds just the right amount of sauce for…um…dignified slurping.
For my black bean sauce I used a variety of fermented black beans (actually soybeans) that comes in a jar (very convenient), but hardcore partisans will tell you to use the dried kind usually packaged in shrink-wrap plastic (stronger flavor). Either way, you’ll need to visit an Asian market to find them. An alternative is pre-prepared black bean sauce found in the Asian aisle of most supermarkets.
Stir-Fried Clams in Spicy Black Bean Sauce
2 dozen littleneck clams, washed and scrubbed (or 3 dozen if using small Manilas like these)
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
2 tbsp garlic, chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced and divided between green top and whitish bulb
1 red chili pepper, cut into thin strips
2 tbsp fermented black beans
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp aji-mirin (or 1 tsp sugar)
1/2 tsp chili paste
1. Combine in to bowl the stock, wine, soy, aji-mirin, and chili paste.
2. Heat wok or deep frying pan on high until near smoking, then add both oils. Stir-fry ginger, garlic, scallion bulb, and chili pepper for 30 seconds.
3. Add clams and continue stirring until they begin to open. Pour in stock, add black beans, stir and cover. When clams are all open, remove to serving bowls and ladle over juices. Garnish with remaining green onion.
This makes enough for an appetizer serving for two or a dinner for one. Serve with rice and a slightly sweet Washington Riesling such as a 2007 Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica. Chop up a little extra garlic, ginger, and scallion and you can make a quick beef or chicken stir-fry side dish using the same oils and sauces. I like to scrape all my rice into the bowl to sop up the sauce once the clams are dispatched.