Clams with chorizo, a taste of Lisbon

It has been a long time since I spent three incredible years in Lisbon. It was a great place to be in the 90’s, so much was going on and changing at that time. The city was on the cusp of regaining its spot as a European hub, which it had been before the long years under dictatorship. And – the food!!! My best memories were the simple dishes in my old hill top neighborhood of Graça. All of Portugal and a few old colonies seemed to be represented in the restaurants and backstreet dives along the Tram 28 route. From the Alentejo, to Tras Montes, all the way to Indian Goa, Mozambique and Brazil, you could find something different every day! If you go, try my favorite place, which has been there for years, A Mourisca.  

When Marie and I arrived in Rennes, we were struck by the wealth of seafood at the Marché des Lices. We knew that we would be cooking stuffed stone crabs, cataplanas, cod, razor clams and sardines in all styles. And of course ameijoas – clams, palourdes in French. In Lisbon, I had platters and platters of clams with garlic, with cilantro, with pork... Not unlike manilas clams, they are plump, juicy, tender and tasty. Manilas, Little Neck and Cherry Stone Quahogs, Surf Clams are all good for this recipe. 

Portuguese and Breton cooking share similarities in philosophy, if not ingredients. First and foremost, seafood must be prepared simply to bring out the best flavors. Secondly, much of Portuguese and Breton cuisine doesn’t use fancy ingredients, except for the occasional rare spice from the days of exploration. Though bustling and cosmopolitan now, Lisbon, like many places in Brittany, was very poor not so long ago. The cuisine reflects this past

Ameijoas com chouriço - Clams with chorizo sausage - is a good example of this style. Nothing could be simpler and more inexpensive. All you need are a couple of pounds of fresh clams, half a pound of spicy chorizo (Portuguese, Spanish, Basque, Mexican… all do fine), a couple tablespoons of olive oil, a splash of white wine, bay leaves, a few cloves of garlic and chopped parsley. Get some good bread to sop up the sauce and you’ve got a tasty meal that will impress guests as an appetizer or a main dish.

Dinner for 2 or appetizer for 4

Ingredients

  •  2 pounds of clams (manilas, cherry stones)
  •  ½ pound of chorizo (spicy or mild depending on taste)
  •  2 tablespoons of olive oil
  •  6 cloves of garlic
  •  3 bay leaves
  • 2 ounces of dry white wine
  • ½ cup of chopped parsley
I can’t say this enough, when cooking seafood, get all your ingredients ready first. Once your pan is hot it’ll take 6-7 minutes, so any hesitation and you’ll over cook your clams into little shriveled tasteless balls of rubber! Also notice that I don’t use any salt in this dish, the ingredients have all you need.

 INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Make sure your clams are rinsed, good fishmongers will tell you if you need to clean them, in most cases this is already done. So, just a quick rinse under cold water will dChop the chorizo into small cubes, do a rough chop of your garlic and chop parsley
  2. In large pan heat your olive oil until it starts to smoke just a bit
  3. Toss in chorizo cubes and brown – about a minute
  4. Toss in chopped garlic and bay leaves – about a minute don’t burn garlic!!!
  5. Add splash of white wine and mix – simmer the mixture for two minutes
  6. Add your clams and toss to mix well with chorizo, garlic and wine
  7. Cover and cook for 3 minutes – clams should be open but not over cooked.
  8. Toss in fresh chopped parsley and serve in a large platter for all to share or in separate plates making sure to get some of the juices into each serving to sop up with bread.

 

Wine pairing  Joseph Sylvaner 2013

Usually with a dish like this, I’d go with a local muscadet, dry and almost briny with minerals, or an entre-deux mers, an equally dry, floral white from Bordeaux. Or, why not be a purist and find a vinho verde from Portugal. A plethora wines would be fine. Heck even a spicy southern red does fine here. Though, stay away from heavy chardonnays and oaky Californians, they won't go well with this dish. 

Marie and I, living in western France, nearly forgot about how great Alsatian wines can be with seafood. In many Parisian brasseries you’ll find bone dry Rieslings and unassuming Sylvaners on menus. They are often inexpensive and excellent with raw seafood platters and simple fish dishes. These wines are very different from German or American counterparts. They are often devoid of all but a hint of residual sugar and alongside subtle fruit flavors you can taste the granite and schist in Alsatian soil.

We choose a Sylvaner from the organic vintners Nathalie and Julian Gsell. Their domain has been in existence since 1691 and has been in the family’s hands since 1821! We met them at a wine fair in Rennes. We tasted through their fantastic selection from Sylvaner (at 6€) to the racier Riesling and Gewürztraminer grand crus, all the way to an incredibly unctuous late harvest pinot blanc. All of their wines seemed to strike a balance between the fragrant essences of Alsatian varietals, sweetness when appropriate, good sharpness to keep things lively and of course minerals, minerals, minerals…   Really a find, great quality/price ratio and they are really nice people too.

I used the Sylvaner in the clams. Very dry, with slightly floral notes of honeysuckle, it has nice acidity, all put together on a flinty backbone. It matched the saltiness of the clams and chorizo with its thirst quenching drinkability. I’m glad we bought a few bottles! They will go fast.