Monday, September 15, 2008

Clam and Sausage Stew

This picture does not do this dish justice. (I really have to work on my food styling. Does anyone have any tips on how to get your food looking gorgeous when you are starving and just want to eat it? Anyhoo ...)

This dish was inspired by a traditional Portuguese dish of pork and clams. In that dish, the pork is usually shoulder meat that has been braised tender before the clams are added. I thought sausage would be a fast, easy, non-braised substitution.

One mandatory side for this brothy dish is crusty bread. We used a big loaf of ciabatta from Anna Rosa's bakery in Newburyport to soak up the juices. Delicious!

A word about clams: Most people are familiar with hardshell clams. Hardshells are graded by size: countnecks, littlenecks, topnencks, cherrystones, quahogs (from smallest to largest). In this dish, I prefer the smaller clams called countnecks (although littlenecks and topnecks can be used). Cherrystones are usually eaten raw or stuffed and baked. Quahogs are used for chowder. You may also see softshell clams in your market. Softshells are usually served steamed with clam broth and butter. You could use steamers in this dish if you wish, but they would not be my choice. If you've never eaten steamers, this is not the dish with which to make your introduction to them.

Clam and Sausage Stew
Serves 2 (generously) - 4 (as a starter)
  • 1 pound Italian sausage, sliced into 1/2" thick rounds
  • olive oil for sauteing
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes, with juice and seeds (if fresh tomatoes are not available, use canned, diced tomatoes)
  • 2-3 pounds hardshell clams, shells scrubbed
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons minced fennel fronds, dill, cilantro or parsley
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the sausage until cooked through. You may need to add some olive oil to lubricate the pan and keep the sausage moving around. Remove the sausage and set it aside while you make the rest of the dish.

Drain off the sausage fat if there's a lot of it. Add a little olive oil to the pan and saute the onion and garlic until softened. Add the tomatoes and cook over high heat until they break down to a saucy consistency.

Add the sausage back to the pan. Add the clams and butter to the pan and cover the pan. The clams will start to open in about 3 minutes or so. Keep and eye on the pan and when all the clams are open, add the minced herb. If a clam does not open, remove it and throw it out.

Taste the sauce for salt and add some if necessary. The liquid that clams give off tends to be fairly salty so you may not need any additional salt.

Dish the stew up into bowls and serve with a crunchy green salad and some crusty bread.

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