I remember the first time I ate clams. We had harvested them ourselves, my siblings and myself. We spent the afternoon running up and down the beach, digging in the sand and tossing littleneck clams into the bucket. Our dad was out in the surf, scooping up crabs with our uncle, using some sort of crab rake. After digging enough clams, my brother, sister, and I played in the waves and splashed through the tidal pools. The sun was setting out in the sea, burning itself deeper and deeper into the water.
It is one of my fonder memories of Port Townsend, Washington, the greatest place on earth. But like all childhood memories, it is most likely full of inaccuracies. And someone (Peder) may correct me on the exact details. But what I do remember is not exactly enjoying the taste of clams when we baked them the next day. I remember smelling it, taking a bite, throwing it over the fence, and going inside to watch Short Circuit with my cousins. Now that, I remember quite clearly.
1. Get the ingredients together. For this fairly traditional recipe of linguine with clam sauce, we use some very simple but flavorful ingredients. The key to this recipe is using the best of what is available. Wash and scrub the dickens out of the clams with a stiff brush beforehand. Look below for more details on buying, cleaning, and storing clams. The white wine is a very drinkable bottle as it should be. Luckily, the clam juice comes in 1 cup bottles, so there are no leftovers there.
2. Sauté the sliced garlic in the olive oil. Make sure the garlic is sliced very thin. Use a razor if you want. Yes, just like in Goodfellas. People really do that. Also, make sure to use a really good extra virgin olive oil. The real stuff should be green in color, and it will most likely be expensive. Heat up the oil until it is hot but not yet smoking. Add the garlic slivers and sauté until they begin to golden. Be ready with the other ingredients, as this will go quickly. You should begin cooking your pasta at this point.
3. Add the bacon and the red pepper. Once the garlic is beginning to get nice and golden brown, add the pancetta or bacon, if you prefer. Cook it until it begins to get crispy. Because it is going into a sauce, you will want it crispy. Otherwise, it will have a raw sort of texture. Once the bacon is crispy, toss in the red pepper flakes or whole chili peppers. Give it a quick toss or stir to mix the pepper in.
4. Add the clams, juice, and wine. After the bacon is nice and crispy or close to it, add the clams. Stir them around a bit, and then add the clam juice and wine. Stir the mixture a few times, and put the lid on. Turn the heat up to a medium-high heat, and check the pasta. You will want it to be done in less than five minutes from now, as that is when the clams will be done. You have a little breathing room if the pasta isn't ready in that amount of time, but try your hardest to get it there.
5. Finally, add the pasta. After 5 minutes hopefully all the clams will be open and cooked. If one is still closed, don't toss it. Just open it and eat it. It's still good. Leave the burner on and check the pasta. Add it to the clam mixture once its done. No need to drain the pasta. Just grab it with a pair of tongs and slop it in. Pasta water is part of the sauce. Once you have all the pasta in, toss or flip the pasta around to get it coated. Then pour the whole sloppy mess into a bowl and top with a pinch of parsley.
The hardshell clams aren't known for having grit inside the shells. So as long as you scrub the outside with a good stiff brush, your sauce should be grit free. The brush I used in the picture is a vegetable brush that I also use to scrub potatoes and carrots. Make sure to pay close attention to the crevices along the shell's seam. If there is a crack or chip and you can see inside the shell as a result, throw it away.
Hardshell clams don't usually open their shells after they have been caught, so if you see some that are open, don't buy them.
Live clams are almost always for sale at the Asian market, so if you have no luck at your grocer, try the Asian place.
If you don't have any clam juice available, try clam stock. Or buy some big ol' Quahog clams; they have lots of juice inside.