Budget travel need not be an endless repetition of stale motels and dubious road food. One of the great pleasures of learning how to forage is finding a noteworthy meal far from home and for little expense. Earlier this month I reported on the White Bass Tacos to be had near Fayetteville, Arkansas. Last summer, in Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument, we doctored ham and cheese sandwiches with wild watercress from a patch that very well may have fed outlaw Butch Cassidy while on the run.
A commercial forager once told me that wherever he goes, he always pays for his gas. What he meant is that he always brings home a wild delicacy that makes the trip, no matter how banal, worthwhile—and in his case it literally pays for the gas when he sells it.
The other day found me on the Olympic Peninsula, where I gave a talk to the OP Mycological Society, a spirited group of foragers if there ever was one. The next day I took my time driving back to the ferry. I had driven this road before but I wouldn’t call it familiar territory. Just the same, wild foods announced themselves at every turn. While I could have loaded up on any number of wild greens, it was the shellfish I wanted most of all. The tide was right so I pulled into a public tidelands.
The place was lousy with food. I could have nabbed rock crabs, horse clams, oysters, or any number of seaweed varieties. Since I had my three-clawed garden scratcher in the car, I decided to dig a quick limit of cockles and littleneck clams. I ate the littlenecks that night with Ruby, who knows a thing or two about clams. I’ve made all kinds of meals with steamed littlenecks: Linguini alle Vongole, in Red Thai Curry, with Black Bean Sauce. This time I decided on a very traditional approach: wine, aromatics, and a touch of cream.
2 dozen littleneck clams, in the shell
1-2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
scant 1/4 cup thinly sliced fennel
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup white wine
handful mixed fresh herbs, chopped (e.g. thyme, oregano, parsley, chives, tarragon)
1/4 cup cream
1. Scrub clams thoroughly.
2. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Saute onion until soft. Stir in garlic, fennel, and bay leaf; cook for a few minutes.
3. De-glaze with wine. Raise heat to high and add clams and herbs. Cover and steam until clams open.
4. Stir in cream, remove from heat, and serve immediately with good bread.
Serves 2 as small meal or appetizers.
Perhaps more pleasurable than the clams themselves was the sight of my daughter chowing down on a wild fruit of the sea that most kids turn up their noses at.