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Varmint

What Makes a Great Clam Sauce?

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I'm no purist, obviously, but I do think that cheese violates the nature of the sauce by attenuating that iodine perfume we're all going for.  And, though I suspect the typical American joints add tons of butter (which is not bad, IMO) I haven't often tasted cheese in NYC clam sauce.

It's been years and years since I've had white clam sauce in a restaurant, and I actually don't even think of the spaghetti and clams that I make at home as the same thing. I don't remember ever having cheese in it, but I agree that butter may be the missing ingredient in your version. Years ago a friend gave me a recipe for white clam sauce that was 2 cans of clams, a bottle of clam juice, garlic and a stick of butter. I don't remember if there was any sauteeing involved, or if you just put all the ingredients together in a sauce pan. Anyway, I did make it once, and it really tasted like a restaurant version of the dish. These days I do what everyone else here seems to agree on: start with olive oil, garlic, fresh clams, etc. No clam juice, but I do like wine and LOTS of chili flakes. But then, I do think of them as really different dishes.

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If doing the pureed clams trick, which I've done with chowder, I'd recommend using frozen chopped chowder clams. It would be prohibitively expensive to do this with littlenecks (which are anyway less flavorful than chowder clams, albeit much more tender) and if you simply steam and puree whole chowder clams without engaging in a good bit of nitpicky cleaning, you're not going to be happy with the color. I bet the Ducasse/Psaltis chowder uses pureed razor clams because they have a large proportion of pink meat.


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Wow, pureed clams, that's fascinating.  It sounds so vile, somehow, but now I'm really curious, at what point did they add it to the chowder?

Right at the beginning, I think.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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My recipe is pretty much the same as the Doc's with the exception that I poach whole cloves of garlic in butter, use a peppery Tuscan EVOO, fresh flat leaf parsley, and a quick grate of lemon zest over the plate before serving.

Edit..I add splash of white wine as well. Never something sweet, always a Soave, Falanghina, or similiar


Edited by GordonCooks (log)

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I've had cheese in clam sauce in restaurants and it has even been good (Wheatfields in Saratoga Springs comes to mind), but I haven't had it in what I would call an Italian or Italian American restaurant. Sam, your version of Italian-American is very different from mine and what I experienced growing up in an Italian-American household with grandparents off the boats. My version is based on 1950's-1970's Italian-American, perhaps the epitome of Italian-American cooking. What you are describing may be considered Italian-American in some circles today, but it is not what I consider Italian-American. Perhaps it is more American-Italian.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I'm also wondering if the fact that clams are mostly pre-purged now has anything to do with the difficulty of reproducing the old flavor.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'm also wondering if the fact that clams are mostly pre-purged now has anything to do with the difficulty of reproducing the old flavor.

I don't find it to be a problem. I think they do just fine.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Sam, your version of Italian-American is very different from mine and what I experienced growing up in an Italian-American household with grandparents off the boats. My version is based on 1950's-1970's Italian-American, perhaps the epitome of Italian-American cooking. What you are describing may be considered Italian-American in some circles today, but it is not what I consider Italian-American. Perhaps it is more American-Italian.

I understand the distinction you're making, John, and I've made it myself. But I'm not sure I'd say that the cooking with which you grew up represents the state of mainstream Italian-American cooking during those times. I'd say that mainstream Italian-American cooking (and, to a large extent, culture) in the US evolved largely from Italians who emigrated to the United States in the largest wave from the late 1800s to the beginning of World War I and their descendants. We're talking about spaghetti with meatballs and Sunday gravy. I have a hard time believeing that the kind of linquini with clam sauce your family might have made was the same as what was being served in Italian-American restaurants in the 60s.


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Sam, your version of Italian-American is very different from mine and what I experienced growing up in an Italian-American household with grandparents off the boats. My version is based on 1950's-1970's Italian-American, perhaps the epitome of Italian-American cooking. What you are describing may be considered Italian-American in some circles today, but it is not what I consider Italian-American. Perhaps it is more American-Italian.

I understand the distinction you're making, John, and I've made it myself. But I'm not sure I'd say that the cooking with which you grew up represents the state of mainstream Italian-American cooking during those times. I'd say that mainstream Italian-American cooking (and, to a large extent, culture) in the US evolved largely from Italians who emigrated to the United States in the largest wave from the late 1800s to the beginning of World War I and their descendants. We're talking about spaghetti with meatballs and Sunday gravy. I have a hard time believeing that the kind of linquini with clam sauce your family might have made was the same as what was being served in Italian-American restaurants in the 60s.

Sam, the family you described fits mine to a T. My grandparents all came over in the 1890's, had large families and maintained connections to the old country. Spaghetti with meatballs was an innovation during the depression in the 1930's. We never had spaghetti and meatballs, though. We would have meatballs with pasta in a red sauce, but there was always some other meat such as braciole, sausage and or pork - the Sunday gravy. This was not isolated to my family though, but prevalent throughout Italian-American restaurants in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan during that period as well as other families we knew well. Amongst that style was linguine with clam sauce as I described - the best restaurant example of which in my memory belongs to Monte's in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. I'd say that it wasn't until perhaps the early 80's that it started to change as gentrification/ethnic shifting started hitting the major Italian-American neighborhoods of Brooklyn such as Carroll Gardens, Canarsie, Flatbush and Bensonhurst. When I was a child I would often accompany my father to do the food shopping at small mom and pop stores in Park Slope ( avery different neighborhood than it is today) and Carroll Gardens. Even then, the fish stores were my favorite to visit (along with the bakeries :biggrin: ). Maybe this was not universal throughout the US, but then very few places in the US had an Italian-American culture like that of Brooklyn or lower Manhattan. As the diaspora of later generations began the preservation of the old ways became more and more difficult to maintain. Linguine with white clam sauce, I am sad to say, is one of the few dishes I still make the way I grew up with. That is not to say that it is necessarily "the best" or the only way to do it, but I have yet to find a better way that suits my taste.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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The use of wine causes horror in some more (rather than less) Italian circles

that is funny to hear since I grew up in Providence RI and was taught how to make clam sauce with wine by women from Sicily..who always said that a nice white wine brightened the flavor of clams...go figure :rolleyes:


why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

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The use of wine causes horror in some more (rather than less) Italian circles

that is funny to hear since I grew up in Providence RI and was taught how to make clam sauce with wine by women from Sicily..who always said that a nice white wine brightened the flavor of clams...go figure :rolleyes:

Though certainly not a universal ingredient, it would not have horrified anyone I am familiar with either.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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i can not stress enough (IMO) to chop the garlic very fine and use a whole lot more than you think you would need,for example for one serving i,ll use around 2 tbls.After all garlic and the clam juice is the dominant flavors or combo that makes this dish(IMO)deglaze with wine and add clams and salt and pepper, cover and let it go till clams open add finely chopped parsley,give the pan a swirl ,check seasoning add pasta and toss till all pasta is covered -serve,preferably with some good crusty bread for "mopping"

Dave


"Food is our common ground,a universal experience"

James Beard

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The use of wine causes horror in some more (rather than less) Italian circles

Care to elaborate? Looking through my Italian cookery books I see many with a wine and clam component. Marcella makes her vongole bianco with white wine, Bugialli makes clam sauces and soups with red and white wine, Kleiman's "Mare" has several dishes with clams and wine and so many others do as well. I don't see the objection although most Neopolitan white clam sauces don't include wine - many others from Italy do. My paternal grandparents were from Piemonte so cooking with clams was not part of my culinary heritage but I certainly have eaten plenty of clam sauces that have included wine as a component both in the U.S.A and in Italy and it is one of my favorite dishes. The white clam sauce that I make is not, basically, a recreation of anything my grandmother might have made but a blend of flavors I have enjoyed and find pleasing from both an Italian American experience living in the USA and as an American living in Italy for the combined equivilent of two years. The foods of my childhood, the things I now consider comfort food, polenta, heavily egg enriched pasta, anything with lots of anchovies or rosemary, anything with wild mushrooms like chicken cacciatore or anything with fontina cheese would not be considered Italian American fare by the standards of the 60's and early 70's in the U.S.A. But it was what I was eating long before this stuff became popular in the late seventies and early eighties when "Northen" cooking became popular. Where I grew up what was cooked at home included a stuffed pasta, call it tortellini, agnolotti, mezza lune or whatever it was served in broth or with a meat sauce or Bolognese or simply burro e parmigiano. To me white clam sauce and pasta is food we never had at home but I am grateful to make at least 3 or 4 times per month

that is funny to hear since I grew up in Providence RI and was taught how to make clam sauce with wine by women from Sicily..who always said that a nice white wine brightened the flavor of clams...go figure  :rolleyes:

Agree! I always make it with a dry white wine although the influence is obscure for me. It just tastes yummy.

Though certainly not a universal ingredient, it would not have horrified anyone I am familiar with either.

Me neither but I am interested in wine and clams is considered, in certain circles, as a "horror".

Kate

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