Sunday, September 9, 2018

Q is for: Quahogs {Grilled Mexican-style Clams}

I really despise how everyone talks about Labor Day being "the end of summer." Quite simply, it's not. The last day of summer is actually September 22.

I get that it marks the return of football season and back to school for many, but I'm just not ready to let go. Winter is so cold and long (especially on the east coast), that I don't want to rush getting to it. Not to mention the fact we had a couple of 90 degree days last week, so it's certainly still feeling like summer outside. And while I do really love fall, I'm determined to hold onto summer for at least a few more weeks.

Part of the reason for that is my love for grilling on the rooftop of our apartment building. I will most definitely hold onto that as long as humanely possible. It's truly one of my favorite things about our location.



When I solicited ideas for "Q" recipes on Instagram recently, I got a lot of great suggestions and one of them was "Quahogs." For those of you who don't know, "quahog" is just a general term for hard shell clams native to the eastern shores of North and Central America. So this term can apply to a variety of more recognizable clams (i.e. littlenecks, cherrystones, chowder clams, etc.) And while I've done a couple of clam dishes previously (clam linguine and clam chowder), I decided it might be fun to do a grill-friendly version for the letter "Q."


As for which ones to choose for this recipe.... well, I'm actually going to suggest the opposite of what I did. Or at least give you the information to make your own decision. I selected Cherrystone clams because they were bigger and I thought it would make for better presentation (which is true.) But in retrospect, I wish I had picked the Littleneck clams. They are the smallest of this clam variety, which means they are younger, sweeter and easier to open. I'll give both options in the recipe (either 24 littlenecks or 12 cherrystones.) The large cherrystone clams sort of got a little intimidating when it actually came down to eating them (at least for me.) But if you love the bigger guys... by all means go for it!


As for the recipe itself, I loved all the flavors I came up with. My original plan was to do a version of Clams Casino on the grill that my friend and co-worker Joe Kosa often makes for parties. When he sent me his recipe, I noticed it didn't call for breadcrumbs, which is pretty traditional for the dish. He told me that he didn't want to do traditional and liked the idea of highlighting the vegetables. I, also, tend to shy away from traditional, so I loved his theory. Until I saw that his recipe called for bell peppers... ewwwww. That then started a whole domino effect of me coming up with a completely different recipe, as I subbed the bell peppers with Fresno chiles (red jalapeños). I then decided to swap lime for lemon and add a splash of tequila and garnish with cilantro... thus, creating a totally new, Mexican-inspired dish. But hat tip to Joe for providing me with the original inspiration!


To clean clams: Gently tap any clams with open shells against the counter top. Discard any that do not close their shells within a few minutes or that have cracked or chipped shells. Place all the clams in a bowl and fill it with cool tap water. Let the clams sit for 20 minutes to an hour.  (You can do this while you prep the veggies.) When you're ready to cook, lift each clam from the water and scrub it to clean any particles or grit from the outside surface.


I wanted to do the entire recipe on the grill, so I prepped all of the vegetables in the kitchen, and then took everything upstairs!


I used bacon for this recipe, but I think chorizo would be delicious as well, and would definitely go along with the "Mexican-style" flavors of this dish. Pre-heat your pan on the grill on medium-high for about 5-10 minutes. Then add chopped bacon or chorizo and sauté until fat starts to render and bacon starts to brown. (Depending on how hot your grill runs, this may take a little longer than it usually does on the stovetop.)


Next add the white and pale green parts of the green onion and the minced Fresno pepper and cook until soft and bacon is cooked through and starting to get crispy, a couple of minutes. Add a splash of tequila and stir, cooking a few minutes (until alcohol has started to cook out.) Add red pepper flakes, Mexican oregano and fresh garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 60 seconds more. Remove from heat and stir in green onion tops, hot sauce, lime zest and juice. Season with just a touch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve. (You can use a side of the grill with the burner turned off.)


To cook the clams, you actually have a couple of options. You could shuck all of them, loosen the clam from the shell, and cook them on the half shell topped with the bacon/vegetable mixture. OR... what I opted for was to let the grill do the work for me and just pop the clams directly on the grill. They will naturally open as soon as they are done cooking (should only take 5-8 minutes.) Remove opened clams from the grill (they will open at different times) and using tongs, pry off the top shells and discard. (Discard any clams that do not open.)

Again, as I noted above, I wish I had opted for the smaller littleneck clams for this. Because the cherrystones are older, the shells are much harder and also more difficult to open, even with the help from the grill.


Loosen the clam from the other shell for easy eating before topping with the bacon mixture. Place clams on a platter covered with rock salt to serve and top with the bacon/vegetable mixture, fresh cilantro and more lime juice if desired.


And because summer is NOT over yet, I'm still drinking rosé too! My go-to this summer has been this canned rosé from Union Wine Company. One can is about two glasses of wine, and it's extremely portable (aka perfect for rooftop BBQ's!). What about you? Are you still holding onto summer or are you ready for fall? Comment below!

Mexican-style Grilled Clams

by Jaymee Sire
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Keywords: grill appetizer gluten-free bacon clam summer

Ingredients (12-24 clams)
  • 12 cherrystone or 24 littleneck clams (littleneck recommended)
  • 4 thick cut pieces of bacon, diced (OR 4 ounces of crumbled chorizo)
  • 2 green onions with tops, finely diced (white & green parts separated)
  • 1 small Fresno chile (red), seeded & finely diced
  • Splash of tequila (about 1 ounce)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Couple dashes of hot sauce (such as Tapatio)
  • Zest & juice from one lime
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • Rock salt, for serving (optional, for serving)
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro? (for garnish)
Instructions
  1. Gently tap any clams with open shells against the counter top. Discard any clams that do not close their shells within a few minutes or that have cracked or chipped shells. Place all the clams in a bowl and fill it with cool tap water. Let the clams sit for 20 minutes to an hour. When you're ready to cook, lift each clam from the water and scrub it to clean any particles or grit from the outside surface.
  2. Set pan on grill and pre-heat on medium-high for 5-10 minutes. Sauté bacon until fat starts to render and bacon is starting to brown.
  3. Add white parts of onion & Fresno Pepper and cook until soft and bacon is cooked through and crispy, a couple of minutes. Add splash of tequila and stir,cooking a couple minutes. Add red pepper flakes, oregano, cumin and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 60 seconds more. Remove from heat and stir in green onion tops, butter, hot sauce, lime zest & juice until butter is melted. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve. (You can use a side of the grill with burner turned off.)
  4. Place clams on grill and close the lid, cooking until shells just start to open (5-8 minutes.) Remove opened clams from grill (they will open at different times) and using tongs, pry off the top shells and discard.
  5. Loosen the clam from the other shell for easy eating and place on the half shell on a platter covered with rock salt to serve and top with the bacon vegetable mixture sauce and minced parsley and eat immediately!
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