I’ve been in Greece for some time now (two years, on and off) and I’ve been enjoying the vast array of fish and seafood tremendously. From huge octopi hung out to dry in the sun, to little fresh sardines grilled and eaten whole (Almost. Guts removed, of course.), and from the well-known fried calamari rings, to the salty fish roe dip taramosalata, I have been (responsibly!) eating my way through the Mediterranean sea.
Falling in love with all the fresh fish and seafood the Greek fish markets have to offer I find myself unable to resist buying this one thing over and over again: beautifully shiny shells named smooth clams, or brown Venus clams! These big and delicious clams are found in most Mediterranean waters and when you get up early enough to go to the fish market, can be found sold in little bundles ready to be taken home. I had never had clams this fresh and big back home in the Netherlands; I had only ever had mussels, oysters, and the small ‘vongole’ found in pasta dishes at Italian restaurants (which, undoubtedly, can never be as fresh as these ones).
In Greece, these brown Venus-clams are often enjoyed raw, their delicate flavor enhanced by just a tiny splash of lemon juice. Though very delicious, this wouldn’t make for much of a recipe on this blog (though do try it out!); If you know how to shuck an oyster, you will know how to crack open these clams and enjoy their soft beige and orange-colored meat.
Despite the popular consumption of raw bivalves – oysters being the most common – it is well-known that these creatures are basically little living filters and that to eat them raw too often can be a bit of a health risk, depending on the season and the waters they came from. In this respect, I often prefer to boil them shortly in a fresh and simple broth – a broth which, slightly flavored by the clams, is just as enjoyable to eat as the clams themselves.
The past years I have both eaten and read about several Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese and Japanese clam dishes that all, in their own way, give preference to a simple, clear broth that has as its main components some fresh ginger, garlic and green onion (some adding sliced radish for sweetness). I guess you could say my recipe here has been inspired by this style of cooking clam soup; a style in which it really is the shells and the delicate flavour of the clams that are the star of the dish.
The only downside (easily overlooked by a glutton like me) is that these brown Venus clams in particular contain a little sand-pouch at the back of their bodies which should be removed. Some people like to quickly boil, or steam the clams, remove the sand-sac when the shells have opened, and continue to cook them. I feel, though, that the clams can be easily overcooked and become rubbery, and lots of delicious flavors are lost by pre-boiling them. Not wanting to go through the process of removing the sand-sac and then returning the clams to the pan, I simply remove the sand-sac when consuming the clams by grabbing it with my fingers, tearing it out, and wiping it on a paper napkin. Classy? No. Quick and easy? Definitely.
Luckily, a big amount of the sand and grit can be removed before the cooking process. One step that I do find necessary is to thoroughly scrub and de-grit the clams about 3 to 4 hours before I start cooking (though, if you really do not have time, try to de-grit for at least one hour before). There really isn’t much to it, you just have to start on time!
How to clean and de-grit clams?
You will need:
- Big bowl and a colander
- 2 liters of non-chlorinated water
- 75g pure sea salt, non-iodized and without additives
- The patience to start this process preferably 3-4 hours before cooking.
- Rinse the clams under running cold water. Scrub the outside of the shells with a stiff brush until there is no sand and dirt left.
- Fill up a large bowl with about 2 liters of non-chlorinated water and 70 grams of sea salt (no additives) to mimic sea water.
- Put a colander inside the bowl to keep the clams from re-consuming the grit and sand they spit out. Add the clams without much overlapping and cover the bowl with a cloth or with some aluminum foil.
- Put the bowl in a cool, dark place for at least 3 to 4 hours.
After this de-gritting process, some people prefer to de-salt the clams again by putting them back in a clean bowl filled with fresh water for about an hour. In the case of this recipe, I usually skip this step. I merely rinse off the clams under the tap and do not add salt to the soup itself (lifehack?). Time to get cooking!
Clam Soup with Garlic and Ginger
- 1,5kg venus clams
- 2l water
- 1 teaspoon oil
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 35g ginger, julienned
- 2 green onions, green part chopped into thin rings white part julienned
- 200g daikon radish
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon black Chinese vinegar (optional)
- 1 green chili pepper, cut into thin rings (optional)
- Very thinly julienne the ginger. Try to cut as thin as possible, as the pieces of ginger will stay in the soup to be eaten. Cut garlic into thin slices. Chop daikon into 1cm (little less than half an inch) thick semi-circles. If you cannot find Daikon radish, you could substitute with turnips.
- Take a large pot and put on the stove on medium heat.
- When the pot is getting hot, add the teaspoon of oil and quickly sauté the sliced ginger and garlic for about 2 minutes until fragrant.
- Add sliced daikon radish, the 2l of water, plus 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of black vinegar to the pot.
- Bring to a boil, then lower to a rapid simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes for the water to take the flavor of the garlic, radish and ginger.
- Add the chopped green onion to the pot, but save some for garnish. Also add the chopped green chili pepper if you are using any.
- Add the clams into the simmering broth and cover with a lid. When the clams have opened, the soup is ready. This will take about 5 minutes for big clams and less for small clams.
- Garnish with leftover green onion.