This post is a shout-out to my peeps in the shellfish dept. One of the benefits of helming FOTL is the opportunity to share my experiences with others keen to forage and cook wild foods—a recipe for good times in the outdoors, with fun people.
My shellfish classes, in particular, have escalated (perhaps as word has gotten out and each subsequent class is intent on besting the previous one) into veritable bacchanals. There’s something about working up a sweat on the tide flats and then whumping together a feast over campstoves that encourages plenitude: folks show up with champagne, beer, cheese, salumi, cookies, and other treats. We’ve had basement apple wine, home-cured sausage, and empanadas. There’s almost always a fillet or two of smoked salmon and recently someone brought bento boxes packed full of potstickers, barbecued pork, and candied almonds.
|On the trail to the tidelands – (c) Susan Choi|
The blueprint is simple. Everyone meets at the beach, where we make introductions and go over some key points of identification, biology, habitat, foraging technique, regulations, and precautions. Then we hit the shellfish beds to gather our limits of clams and oysters. The rest of the day is spent hanging out back at the picnic shelter, cooking our catch.
My co-leader, John Adams, manages Taylor Shellfish‘s Dosewallips facility. As a third-generation shellfish farmer, he also has his own family business, Sound Fresh Clams & Oysters, where he’s been making a name all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond for his Skookum Point oysters. Recently a writer from Bon Appetit dropped by to sample John’s stuff.
|An oyster bed for bivalve dreams – (c) Susan Choi|
John and I are fortunate to have Jeff Ozimek, outdoor programs coordinator at Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec, in our corner. Jeff is the mastermind behind all this fun, and Seattle Parks & Rec (if they ever have a budget windfall) would be smart to look across the pond to see what Jeff is doing to get his community outside interacting with the natural world.
For my part, after the clams have been dug and the oysters picked, I get to relax a little bit. Delegation carries the day as the students do the prepping and cooking. Usually there are a few who lead the charge. This past weekend Team France made Steamed Clams with Wine and Herbs while Team China filled a wok with Spicy Black Bean Clams. I watched, offering the occasional advice and encouragement. We all slurped oysters until we could eat no more.
We usually get a few “repeat offenders” at each class. This time around we were pleased to have back photographer Susan Choi, who graciously provided most of the photos for this post.
Even the rain couldn’t put a damper on the proceedings. John built a fire, the canopies went up, and we continued the feast. Finally, well past dark, the park security detail had to shoo us out. Everyone went home with plenty of shellfish.
|Picking the right oyster: Does it have a deep pocket? – (c) Susan Choi|
Pimentón Clams and Pig Face looks back to my new year’s resolution to cook more improvisationally. It’s a variation on Pasta alle Vongole, and a keeper. The pig face of the title, smoked jowl, is a lot like bacon, but try to find the jowl if you can because its mix of succulence and crispiness can’t be beat. Combined with the clams, smoked paprika, sweet red pepper, and some white wine, the resulting sauce makes for a distinctively Iberian way to dress up pasta.
I’ve made steamed clam dishes that hail from all over the world. Italian clams and Thai clams, Mexican clams and Japanese clams. This riff on Spanish clams turned out so good that I expect the recipe below to take its place in the inner circle of my go-to clam dishes.
10 oz linguini
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 lb smoked pig jowl, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp crushed red chili pepper flakes
1/4 tsp semisweet (or sweet) smoked paprika
salt, to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 dozen manila clams
2 handfuls wild watercress, dandelion greens, or arugula, torn
parsley, chopped for garnish
1. In a large, deep-sided saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low and slowly cook diced jowl, rendering fat until the meat is crispy, about 30 minutes of mostly untended cooking with occasional stirring.
2. While the jowl is rendering, bring a pot of water to boil and add linguini. Cook until not quite al dente, drain, and set aside.
3. When diced jowl is crispy, raise heat to medium, add onions, and cook in pork fat for a minute before adding garlic and red pepper. Cook together for another 2 minutes. Stir in crushed red pepper flakes and paprika. Salt to taste.
3. Raise heat to high, de-glaze with white wine, and allow to bubble for 30 seconds, stirring, before adding clams and covering.
4. When clams begin to open, mix in greens and linguini. Continue to stir, coating pasta and reducing liquid if necessary. Serve and garnish with chopped parsley.
|Drinking wine, working the wok – (c) Susan Choi|