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July 06, 2009

Surf Clam, nasturtium leaf and flower, shallot marmalade

Wow.  You guys... just, wow.  Thank you so much for the outpouring of support and kindness about Jake.  It has helped so much to hear from so many of you, and my parents are appreciative, as well (Jake stayed with them when I traveled, which was quite often, so he was their dog, too).  So, thank you.... thank you so very much.

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My family and I spent time on the southern New Jersey shore every summer, and when I was a kid, to take a break from all the sitting and tanning and trying to figure out how to make Donny Osmond my boyfriend, we'd take walks on the beach.  Without fail, hard clam and surf clam shells littered the shoreline, especially along the foamy tide line just after a storm.  I'd fill up my trusty little plastic bucket with the shells, take them down to the water's edge and rinse them off so I could take them back home to Pennsylvania.  Sometimes, my friends and I would glue googly eyes and pipe cleaners (a smiley-faced mouth) on the rough side of the shell and use them as paperweights.  Other times, I'd leave them as is and just sit them atop my dresser or desk, and have a year-round reminder of the beach (one of my most favorite places in the world). 

Living so close to a coastal region, I grew up eating clams (because who doesn't love fried clam strips and fries in a basket!), and love them even more as an adult.  Now that I think about it, I rarely order them in restaurants and only make them at home a few times a year, but I so love their taste and texture.  I love eating them freshly steamed open, just out of the pot... with white wine, garlic, shallots, and thyme wafting about as I devour them.  I love them with pasta, a little olive oil and garlic, and parmigiano-reggiano.  And clams casino (minus the bell pepper)?  LOVE.  Suffice to say, I would be very, very sad if my life could not include clams.  And, I love that I can sashay down to Blacksalt on a moment's notice to pick up fresh littlenecks whenever I want them.

Surf clams, on the other hand, are not part of Blacksalt's regular order.  So, after a quick email exchange with a certain Chicago chef (who just landed a sweet book deal, btw) on the merits of Pacific vs. Atlantic surf clams, I emailed Scott with my request (Atlantic, please) and within days I had my surf clams:

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I can't talk enough about how important it is to get to know the people who procure your food.  Because, not only are they usually really fun and interesting people, and not only do they make sure you get the best stuff they have, but they also take care of you in other ways -- like shucking your clams for you and separating what you need from the junky bits you can throw into a chowder later on:

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The hunks of clam in the foreground are what I used for this dish.  The bits in the plastic container ended up in a ziploc bag that promptly went into the freezer for what ended up being impromptu linguine and clams this past weekend with friends (my serving was made with Bionaturae gluten-free penne, and it was really, really good).

I got to work on the surf clams first, because I wanted to prep them while they were still so fresh.  I laid them out on a cutting board (they looked like pounded chicken breasts!), trimmed them a bit, and then cut them into (sort of) squares. 

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Per the book's instructions, I made several slits in one end of each clam so that they could be spread into a fan-like shape in the final plating.

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I stored them in a deli container with canola oil, salt, and pepper, and refrigerated them until I was ready to grill them just before serving.

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With the clam prep out of the way, I started the lemon pudding.  If you have the Alinea cookbook, you'll see the photo of this dish on page 56 -- and the lovely yellow blob of something on the fork, but no recipe for it on the opposing page.  In an email to me of the cookbook's errata before I started this blog, Grant noted that I'd need to follow the Lemon Pudding recipe on Page 269 (part of a Salsify dish).  So, I did.  And so should you, should you choose to make this.

In a medium-sized saucepan, I brought water, salt, sugar, saffron, and lemon zest to a boil.  Now, one of the sometimes-pesky things about using a cookbook that uses weight measurements is that I had no idea how many lemons it might take to yield the required 6g of lemon zest (I guessed 2) as well as the 250g of lemon juice I'd also need (I guessed six).  I was able to get the 6g of lemon zest from one-and-a-half lemons, and it took all six lemons I'd bought to give me the 250g of juice (it actually yielded 260g, so I wasn't that far off!).

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I brought it to a boil, and then turned off the flame, covered the pan, and let the mixture steep for 20 minutes.


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After steeping (during which time, the color intensified, for sure), I strained the liquid through a chinois into a clean saucepan, added the agar agar and brought it to a boil, whisking like a maniac while it boiled for about a minute and a half:

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I poured it through the chinois into a sauté pan, which I'd set in a baking dish full of ice water so it could cool and set (which took about 40 minutes):


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I scooped out the lemon gel and put it, along with the lemon juice, into my food processor and blended the heck out of it until it was smooth:

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I pushed it through my chinois and stored it in a squeeze bottle in the refrigerator until I was ready to begin plating.

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This is the point where I should confess: I really don't like lemon.  If I had to be stuck with one citrus fruit the rest of my life, it would be limes.  Oranges place a distant second.  Grapefruit doesn't even rank, I detest it so much.  But, I've never been a fan of lemon.  It's too sharp, and I really don't like the taste or smell of it at all.  I get really, and probably quite unnecessarily, ticked off and annoyed when restaurants automatically add lemon slices to their water, or jam a lemon wedge onto the glass.  Because.  Lemon.  Is.  TOUCHING MY WATER.   AAAUUUUGHGGHGHGRHRHGHGHGHHGHGH!!!!!!!!!  Stupid slimy lemon seeds and pulp.  Stupid lemon taste.  DO. NOT.  LIKE.  I mean, why not just spray a can of Pledge into my mouth.  Or Mr. Clean.  IT'S THE SAME THING.

However, the smell of this lemon-saffron pudding intrigued me.  And by "intrigued," I mean it didn't make me want to stab anyone.  I didn't want to taste it on its own, though, because I didn't want to hate it, and therefore have it cloud my opinion of the bite when I tasted everything together.  So, I just took a small whiff of it and stowed it away... silently cursing its lemonosity.

Two more elements to make -- and this one I knew was gonna be good: nasturtium leaf soup.  Before I get to the nasturtium part, though, let me show off my potato-measurement guessing skillz.  I needed 250g (8.8 oz.) of Yukon Gold potatoes.  I held potato after potato in my hand at the grocery store... trying different combinations to see what felt like it might've been just over a half a pound.  I didn't cheat and use the scale in the produce section -- I wanted to see if I could nail it on my own.  Check this shizz:

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Not bad, eh? 

I peeled and sliced the potato into half-inch slices and put the slices into a saucepan with water, half-and-half, and salt.  I brought it to a simmer and cooked the mixture for about 8 minutes (when the potatoes were tender):

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While the potatoes were simmering, I went outside to the flower pots on my front "stoop" (it's not really a stoop, but it sounds odd to describe the flower pots huddled along the edges of the wider part of my brick walk along the front porch) to bring in all the nasturtium leaves I could muster.

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I needed 150g of nasturtium leaves, and only ended up having 50g, but I knew it wouldn't be that big a deal, so I shed not one tear as I threw them into the food processor (after having washed and spun them dry) along with the potato mixture:

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I blended this mixture for about two minutes, then began adding ice cubes.  The recipe called for 150g of ice cubes, but since I'd only put in 50g of nasturtium leaves, I only added 50g of ice cubes.  I blended and blended until the sounds of ice cubes being broken up and whacked around had subsided, and poured it through a chinois, creating one big, green, liquidy, potato-smellingy bowl of wow:

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I let it cool in a bowl nestled in another bowl of ice, so that it could cool off enough before I put it in the refrigerator to wait for its final plating.

Last element of this dish is a shallot-cucumber marmalade.  Its title alone made me drool in anticipation.  I love shallots; I love cucumbers -- how could this NOT be good?

Another example of my weight-guessing skillz below (I needed 185g of shallots), and what did I bring home from the store?

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Maybe I need to call this blog Rain Man at Home, because I'm starting to scare myself.

I peeled and diced those shallots, and put them in a saucepan with some butter, water, white wine vinegar, sugar, and salt, and brought it to a simmer.

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I simmered it over low-medium heat for 45 minutes until the ingredients had cooked down and the liquid had evaporated, and it looked like this:

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I could barely leave the kitchen the whole time this was cooking because it smelled soooooooo good.  Shallots are one of my favorite ingredients of all time, and I love watching (and smelling) them caramelize and cook.

I spread the shallot mixture onto a sheet pan and put it in the refrigerator to cool fully (took about an hour):

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When the shallots were fully chilled, I peeled, quartered, and seeded an English cucumber (the book didn't specify an English cucumber, but I almost always have one on hand, so it's what I used):


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I diced it, and stirred the cucumber dice with the shallot mixture, and this was the end result:


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It was all I could do to not eat this entire bowlful all in one go.  Sweet, cool, crisp, marmalade-y, onion-y, pointy, smooth, aromatic... summer.  I was imagining all the different kinds of food I could serve this with, and then realized I'd been daydreaming for a good 20 minutes.  About shallot-cucumber marmalade.  Seriously.  It's that good.  If you have the book, turn to page 57 and make this immediately.  This is one of those staples I want to have in my fridge at all times.

With all the elements of the dish ready to go, I called my neighbors and gave them the five-minute warning.  Then, I began plating.... or, mini-souffle-dishing and spooning.

In the little bowls, you'll see the nasturtium soup.  On the spoon is a blob of lemon pudding and a little bit of shallot-cucumber marmalade:

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On top of the lemon pudding and marmalade, I laid a very small nasturtium leaf, and a nasturtium flower petal:


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Then, I threw the surf clams onto the stove-top grill pan.  Alert: some not-prettiness ahead.  But I think I fixed it in the final plating:

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They ended up being too big for the spoon (which I knew would be the case, but knew I could work around it), so I did some post-cooking trimming, and put more a appropriately sized clam piece onto each spoon as the final step before tasting them:

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Now, apart from the one clam piece that looks like a decaying tooth (I ate that one so that no one else would be grossed out by looking at it), they look pretty nice, don't they?  Each of us slid the spoon's elements into our mouths at the same time, and it was fun to hear, "whoa, lemon" and "what's crunchy?" and "ooooo, cucumber" and "oohhh, clam" as we chewed.  Then, we ate the nasturtium soup (which I got out of the fridge about a half-hour before serving, so it was closer to room temperature, which I prefer).  Overall, this got a big thumbs up, and was a big crowd pleaser among the adults.  The kids liked the clam part, but not the soup.  We all loved the clams so much that, after we'd eaten this dish, we stood around the cutting board picking like vultures at the leftover pieces I hadn't used.  Makes me think I'll just grill the surf clams on their own next time, and know it'll make a great cocktail hour snack on a Friday afternoon.

I loved the way the softness of the nasturtium was sort of like a calming, almost felt (material)-like backdrop for the marmalade and lemon pudding to really showcase the clam.  The clam had the most amazing clammy taste -- like, you know how you really taste clams in your nose (moreso that other bivalves)?  But it wasn't overpowering.  It was the perfect level of clamness... and the textures were layered nicely together.  And, get this: I didn't hate the lemon pudding.  In fact, I actually kind of liked it.  I will give MOST of the credit to the saffron, because.... well.... because I want to.  (Stupid lemon.)  My neighbor, Holly, loved the lemon pudding so much that she took the rest of it home with her, and brought back the empty bottle a few days later.  I think she and her daughter took turns squirting it onto a spoon and having little snacks of it. 

I polished off the rest of the shallot-cucumber marmalade that night before bed, which, *urp*, may not have been a good idea from a timing perspective, but whatevs.  I've since made another batch, and I eat it on everything: sausages, a slice of gouda, toast with cream cheese... and sometimes just on its own when I need to eat something and stare out the kitchen window to clear my head.

I really loved this dish, and I'm so glad it reminded me again how much I love clams. In fact, I think I'll order some more and make them this weekend.

And, you know what I just realized?  The completion of this dish heralds the one-quarter-of-the-way-through-the-book milestone.  I've done 28 out of 107 dishes.  Fancy that.

Up Next: Lamb, akudjura, olive, eucalyptus veil

Resources: Clams from Blacksalt; nasturtium from my garden (courtesy of Behnkes); potatoes, shallots, and cucumber from Whole Foods; Organic Valley cream; Terra Medi white wine vinegar.

Music to Cook By: Invincible Soundtrack; various artists.  So, here's the thing.  In the summertime, I think about the beach.  My friends at the beach are Phillies fans, as am I.  When I think about the Phillies, I think about the Eagles (the football team, not that Don Henley combo).  And then, I think about Vince Papale.  And then, I think about "Invincible."  And Marky Mark.  And that scene where he's playing a pick-up game with his friends, and it's raning, and his t-shirt is all, well, clingy and awesome because, hello, he's Marky Mark. And then, I have to listen to this soundtrack again and again, because it really was one of the best-scored (soundtracked?) movies, for me, in the past 10 years.  And, did I mention Marky Mark?  And his shirt???  Sigh.....

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Just FYI -- Pledge, etc. aren't made from lemons, they use lemongrass for the scent.

Our landlord always brings us stuff from his garden when he stops by to pick up the rent check, and yesterday it was a big ol' bag of shallots. I've been poking around the interwebs for shallot recipes, but nothing has gotten me as excited as the the marmalade. It sounds AMAZING. Gonna have to give that a whirl today.

I tasted a nasturtium leaf for the first time this weekend. My friends are growing them in their garden. It was so delicious and spicy, I've been dreaming of ways to use them in my cooking. This soup sounds perfect!

wow, your eye measuring skills are impressive. i'm never going to go against you in a contest (not sure what that contest would be, but i'm not going up against you!) as for lemons, i could write odes to lemons - they are my faves :)

I love clams like Oprah loves pie. That's a whole lot. In fact, I ate clams two nights in a row last week. It was heaven. Nice post, I can't wait to make that cucumber-shallot marmalade. Oh, and so sorry about Jake! I totally missed that somehow.

Great read, Carol! I am new to your writing, and I find it marvelous!
I hear you with respect to citrus - I love limes (actually I am a "nutter" for limes) and oranges, but not so keen on lemons, especially in cooking, but I do love a fragrant fresh lemon. However, your anti-lemon rant made me chuckle - A LOT! : )

..."silently cursing its lemonosity..."

I adore shallots (and cukes), madly...and saffron (mmmm).
I believe I must get this cookbook...and a good scale!

Yay! After all your hard work on this project, you deserve a successful dish, and the fact that you loved it makes it even better.

It's the smell of lemon balm that makes me think of household cleaners. And if course it's running wild through my flower beds. Gag!

p.s. anyone else having problems posting comments in Forefox? I had to launch IE to get this one posted.

Beauteous. I would looove to eat that.

Congrats on the stats!

I think this is my favorite post so far. Wow and yum. In my next life I'm going to live next door to you.

I have to say unlike you I LOVE lemon. I made Ruhlman's lemon curd from Ratio today with egg yolks I had left over from clarifying my chicken broth with a raft yesterday. It is very, very sharp, and, I think, delicious. You, of course, would totally hate it.

Do you mind telling me if your chinois is the hard kind and not the soft kind so you don't have to worry about puncturing it with every push?

Congratulations on being so far along in the book.

[[--- It's the hard kind.]]

Fried clams are pure yum. This was such an amazing endeavor--it took me a couple passes through the entry. And, I completely agree about getting to know your food purveyors.

"Sweet, cool, crisp, marmalade-y, onion-y, pointy, smooth, aromatic... summer."

Pointy? Uh...synaesthesia?

Your anti-lemon rant was great! but does it include Meyer Lemons?? those are almost sweet, I often replace lemons with Meyer lemons on recipes , give them a chance.Love the clams and shallots , I'M trying them next.

One of my favorite things to do is to go out near Ocean City, MD to Assateague Island and go clamming. It's really very easy to do and there's nothing like getting clams and making a white wine and garlic sauce clam linguine right on the beach

Great to see you back, Carol. A wonderful post, too. Just had to drop you a note and thank you again for being my first inspiration to start a blog of my own. Thanks -- Jean

Great post, great food, great writing. Love the lemon rant (though I adore lemons and despise grapefruit). Really enjoy your blog, Carol.

Also wildly fond of shallots. My recent ode to them: http://tinyurl.com/nhdj2n

I would eat your teeth shaped clams any day, you make these sound delicious!

Stunning. Never used nasturtiam leaves before - just the flowers. I'll have to get out in my garden & pick some.

"Alinea@home clams, nasturtium, lemon" at www.wordle.net. Almost as beautiful in words as it is to read and see in here...

Way to go Rain Woman.

Hey Carol, I think you may already be aware of this, but just in case you aren't, I figured I'd point it out. Food processors don't do a very good job of pureeing things. They do a great job of breaking stuff up into sometimes quite small chunks, but nothing is ever really pureed when it comes out. As a result, your lemon pudding is quite grainy. I've noticed this in many of your posts, where there is some substance set with a hydrocolloid then pureed. Similarly, your nasturtium soup doesn't have as intense a color (and probably flavor) as it otherwise would. If you care about getting these things smooth, you should start using a blender for pureeing. Yes, it is a little annoying to get the gels to start blending in the blender, but once they get going, they get pureed quite well, and come out completely smooth.

Otherwise, keep up the good work.

Hi Carol,

Up here on Cape Cod where I live, the main clam is known as a quahog which are divided by sizes into littlenecks, cherrystones and quahogs. They look a lot like your pictures of the surf clams. Are you familiar with them and do you think they would work in the clam dish. Thanks.

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