Monday, January 25, 2016

Clams Provencal







     Palourdes à la Provençale
     Clams Provencal is French appetizer that is relatively easy to make.  Clams Provencal is a great appetizer to share with dinner party guests.  The aroma and flavor of this appetizer certainly wets the appetite!    
     The word "Provencal" refers to cooking in the style of Provence France.  Southern French cuisines are very healthy, because the focus is on locally sourced farm fresh vegetables, olive oil and seafood.  The food of Provence tends to be lighter and full of flavor, just like most Mediterranean cuisines.
     Old classic French Provencal cooking involves no tomatoes or any new world ingredients, just like old classic Italian cooking.  Modern Provencal recipes include tomatoes and peppers in the list of ingredients.
     A classic Provencal topping for clams would be herbs gathered during a morning walk in a meadow, bread crumbs, butter, olive oil, shellfish liquor or meat glaze and seasoning.  A modern Provencal style clam topping is a highly seasoned tomato sauce that is enhanced with local herbs and a little bit of chile pepper.  Either way, Clams Provencal certainly pleases the palate!  

     Shellfish Safety:     
     • Always save the receipt for shellfish.  In case of pathogen contamination, a receipt or shellfish tag will make it easier to trace the source.
     • Clams that have open shells or broken shells must be discarded, because they are dead.
     • Fresh clams should have a pleasant ocean breeze aroma and they should not have a strong odor.
     • Always keep the clams ice cold.  Clams can be kept on ice in a refrigerator for a few days.    
     • Whole raw clams can also be frozen for later use, but they will easily freezer burn after a few weeks.
     • Always wear protective thick rubber gloves when shucking clams.  A cut on the skin will almost always get infected.
     
     Quahog Clams:
     American East Coast Quahog (Hard Clams) are best for today's recipe.  Hard Clams are usually identified by names that describe the size.  The most common sizes are Littleneck, Cherry Stone and Largeneck.  Any of these Hard Clam sizes are good for today's recipe.
     The clams in the photos were not labeled by size at the food market, but judging from experience, they are about the size of a small cherrystone or a big littleneck.
     For an appetizer portion, 6 to 8 littlenecks or 5 to 6 cherrystones is plenty.  If largenecks are available, only offer 4 or 5.
       
     Shucking Clams:
     I have shucked several tons of clams during my career and I make this task look easy.  Practice makes perfect, so always strive to improve your shucking technique!  
     The clam knife in the pictures above is the most popular safe clam knife style in the restaurant business.  The handle has a non-slip texture and the handle floats in water.  The blade is semi sharp on one edge.  The knob shaped handle fits in the palm and it allows plenty of pressure to be easily applied.
     The object is to shuck clams, so they look clean, plump, juicy and undamaged, just like the raw clams in the photo above.        
     Step 1:  Clean the outside of the shells and purge any sand from the clams.
     *Purging means soaking the clams in cold water with 1 tablespoon of corn meal for 1 hour in a refrigerator.  After purging rinse off the clams.   
     Step 2:  The heel of a clam is the easiest part to pry.
     Apply pressure on the heel with the blade.
     Twist the blade with a "wiggle" motion to slightly pry open the heel and slide the clam knife edge between the 2 shells.
     Step 3:  Twist the blade while gripping the clam to open a small gap.
     Step 4:  The muscle that attaches the clam to the shell should be cut with the clam knife first.  This is done by running the blade against the inside of one shell, so the blade scrapes against the shell.  This motion will cleanly cut the mussel and leave the clam meat undamaged.    
     Step 5:  The top shell can now be twisted off and discarded.  
     Step 6:  Rinse the clam under cold water, if any shell chips can be seen.
     Step 7:  Slide the clam knife against the bottom shell to sever the attaching muscle. 
     Step 8:  Place the half shell clam on ice till it is needed.
     Continue shucking till all the clams are shucked!

     Provencal Sauce:
     This recipe yields about 2/3 cup.  (Enough for 1 Clams Provencal Appetizer) 
     There are hundreds of different Provencal Tomato Sauce recipes and they are all correct.  There really is no single definitive Provencal Tomato Sauce recipe, because most chefs tailor the ingredients to best suit the application. Today's Provencal Tomato Sauce recipe is designed for clams!
     Step 1:  Heat a small sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
     Add 3 minced garlic cloves.
     Briefly sauté till the garlic becomes fragrant.
     Step 2:  Add 1/3 cup of seeded diced plum tomato.
     Sauté till the tomato, starts to become tender.
     Step 3:  Add 2 teaspoons of tomato paste.
     Sauté till the tomato paste gains a little bit of light brown color around the edges.  (French Pincer Technique.)
     Step 4:  Add 3/4 cup of dry white wine.
     Add 1 pinch of Crocus sativa Saffron (or 2 pinches of Safflower Saffron).
     Add 1 pinch of rosemary.
     Add 1 pinch of thyme.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of chiffonade cut basil leaves.  (Chiffonade = very thin ribbons)
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of chopped Italian Parsley.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Step 5:  Bring the sauce to a gentle boil.
     Step 6:  Reduce the temperature to medium low/low heat.
     Simmer and reduce till the sauce is a medium thin consistency.
     Step 7:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Immediately add 1 tablespoon of chilled unsalted butter while stirring.
     Set the sauce pot aside.

     Clams Provencal:
     This recipe yields 1 appetizer.
     Step 1:  Place the 6 shucked small cherrystone half shell clams in a shallow single portion casserole dish that is about 7" wide.
     Spoon a generous amount of the Provencal Sauce over each clam.
     Spoon any extra sauce into the casserole dish.
     Add 2 tablespoons of dry white wine to the sauce that lays in the dish.
     Step 2:  Bake the Clams Provencal in a 350ºF oven till the sauce starts to bubble and the clams are fully cooked.  (The clams should still be moist and juicy.)
     Step 3:  Place the casserole dish on a doily lined serving plate.
     Garnish with a basil leaves and Italian Parsley sprigs.
     Served with sliced baguette bread on the side.  

     The aroma and flavor of Palourdes à la Provençale is nothing less than delicious!  

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