The other day I made the terrible mistake of telling some very juvenile-minded people that I wanted clams. “I’m craving the taste of clams!” I said. “What? I love eating clams. Especially big meaty saucy clams that you eat with your fingers and you get the juices all over your face… Will you guys stop looking at me like that.” For the rest of the day they kept giving me sly looks. This brought me to the conclusion that one should be very careful about mentioning clams to certain people.
Littleneck and cherrystone clams which are so abundant in the US are hard to find here, with the smaller-sized vongole or smooth-shelled pippies being more common. Pippies are cute and all but I wanted something more substantial. I was lucky to find these large clams at the Sydney Fish Markets which were exactly what I wanted for this dish. There’s something about the slighty chewy texture and briny sweet oceany flavour which I love. They’re so delicious just simply steamed and dipped in drawn butter, American-style, but they also carry stronger flavours just as well.
If you’re a rookie to the shellfish game, my tip is to try clams or pippies first because they seem less intense and scary, and work your way up to mussels and then oysters. Another tip: don’t examine the clams and dissect them like you’re doing open heart surgery on them and ask which part is the anus or whatever. Just put the whole thing in your mouth and eat it for fuck’s sake. Hmmm. Never thought I’d find myself writing the word anus in a food blog.
My lovely Chinese colleague gave me a precious little jar of XO sauce which she bought for me from Chinatown. It’s a famous sauce made of dried scallops and dried shrimps and chilli, which sounds kind of weird but it gives dishes a delicious savoury boost when stir-fried with the ginger, garlic and chillies. The perfect thing to go with clams. Or bivalve ocean molluscs, you imbeciles.
CLAMS IN CHILLI, GARLIC, GINGER & XO SAUCE
1kg clams (or pippies)
2 tablespoons oil
5cm piece of ginger
5 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons XO sauce
50ml shao xing wine
100ml chicken stock
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour mixed with warm water
2 red chillies, sliced
3 spring onions, sliced
Heat a large saucepan over high heat, add half a cup of water and bring to the boil. Add clams, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes, removing clams as they open. Drain and reserve.
Heat oil in wok over high heat, add garlic and ginger and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add XO sauce and shao xing wine and simmer for 2 minutes. Add soy, chicken stock and sugar and simmer for another 2 minutes.
Add cornflour mixture and simmer, continually stiring until sauce thickens.
Add clams, chilli and half of the springs onions, toss to combine and serve garnished with remaining spring onions.