Fred and I received some beautiful clams from our CSF yesterday. We’d made a wonderful recipe with them just a few weeks before, simmering them in white wine, shallots, garlic, and a bay leaf, adding fresh parsley and butter at the end. Here’s how that dish turned out.
But yesterday we were out of white wine, and I’d just gotten the last of some pre-frost jalapenos from a colleague’s garden. So I decided to improvise and make a spicy broth.
We had red wine, beer, and turkey broth to serve as possible broths. I chose the beer, an India pale ale, thinking it would be the best complement to the jalapenos. I added shallots, garlic, a bay leaf, and some diced potatoes, bringing the ingredients to a boil and cooking until the potatoes were tender. All was going well. Everything smelled fine, a nice robust simmer of shallots, garlic, and jalapeno. I tasted a potato piece or two–they were tender and tasty enough.
Then I added the clams. Without washing them.
Fresh clams are not a regular part of my repertoire. I’ve opened plenty of cans and made a quick linguini dish with them, but I’ve rarely been willing to spend the money for fresh. I’m also a bit squeamish about cooking things that are still alive. So perhaps I can be forgiven for forgetting that clam shells are covered in an invisible grit. Invisible, that is, until it has sloughed off into your broth.
After the clams had steamed for about six minutes and were all opened, I ladeled them into bowls, poured the broth over them, and proudly presented them at the table. We dug in.
Fred took the first bite. This is sometimes followed by an exclamation of, “Honey, you are an excellent cook!” or “Wow!” He is very easy to please. There were no comments this time.
I scooped a clam from its shell. It was tender though not as flavorful as our earlier batch. I speared a potato. It was not obviously bad, but it lacked a certain richness. Then I tasted a spoonful of the broth.
Fred was eating silently, seemingly content. I wrinkled my nose.
“This is disgusting!” I exclaimed.
Fred put down his spoon. “I thought I noticed a metallic taste,” he said.
That comment proves without a doubt that Fred is a saint. The broth tasted like liquid tin foil, with sand added for texture. The jalapenos contributed a spicy note.
“We can’t eat this,” I said. “It’s awful.”
Fred looked relieved. I suspect he would have eaten the entire bowl without complaint. I picked the bowl up and carried it away. He dove in to his salad.
Not wanting to throw out an entire batch of fresh clams I drained off the broth, noticing that it was the color and consistency of a dirty pond. I rinsed the clams and potatoes multiple times. I took out the turkey broth–prepared over Thanksgiving–from the freezer and made a quick soup with onions, garlic, butter, more potato, herbes de Provence, thyme, bay leaf, pepper, and cream. I added the clam/potato remains back in and served it back to Fred, who had temporarily retreated into the study to look at Facebook–perhaps hoping to forget the horror of what he’d eaten earlier.
The soup was edible if not spectacular. We were able to determine that the metallic flavor actually came from the beer–I’m not sure why, since I’ve made beer-based dishes before without that effect. Fred thought it was the particular characteristic of an India pale ale, but we may never know for sure.
And the potatoes still tasted like tin.