This is what we cooked last week:
Monday: Turkey burgers, mustard greens with pancetta, fig/fennel caponata
appetizer (I do not, as it turns out, like mustard greens all that much).
Tuesday: Grilled Shrimp with grilled corn and tomato salad
Wednesday: Grilled Sausage and Peppers with spiced cannellini.
Thursday: Spicy Tuscan Bean Soup with white pizza.
Friday: Oysters, clams and mussels in wine on the grill
That Friday dish is my new favorite for a perfect summer day. The only thing which could have improved this dish was being on the Amalfi coast. And while we remained near the banks of Squaw Run, the dinner tasted like it came from the Tyrhennian Sea. Well, it sure as heck didn’t come from the Allegheny.
The beauty of this meal is that, after a bit of prep, it is all simple outdoor cooking. The idea came from a video on the NYT web-site which showed a lady cooking mussels and clams in wine on top of a grill. The accompanying article mentioned the oysters, but there was no accompanying recipe and when I surfed the web all I got were recipes for clams and mussels cooked on a stovetop (if you don’t have a grill, the stovetop can work – see notes below).
Here’s a better idea – get as many oysters, clams and mussels as you like (you can skip everything but the oysters – they make the meal). Clean the shell-fish (see note below if you’re unsure about how to do this). Start a hot fire in your grill – gas is okay, charcoal is better and hardwood charcoal is best. Put a foil pan on the grates, let it heat for a minute or so and toss in some sliced garlic, the oysters and clams along with a good splash of white wine. I used a vinho verde – but any dry, minerally white will do. Take a good swig of the wine (it goes amazingly well with martinis, I’ve found) and drizzle some good olive oil over the shellfish, then lay some heavy-duty aluminum foil over the pan. I pressed the foil down loosely so as to retard evaporation but let some of the smoke get into it.
After about 4 minutes, toss in the mussels and re-cover. 4 minutes after that you can uncover and begin removing any open shellfish and putting them in a serving bowl – the mussels will open fairly quickly, the clams sometimes need to be turned over and the oysters will not open all that wide – but if they open they’re good. Be patient – with large oysters you may need a total of 12 minutes. Discard any shellfish that won’t open. (If you go to a good market, most of the fish will open – all of mine did.)
Now take the foil pan (you will need two hands – and two oven mitts – these pans are flimsy) and pour all of the shellfish juices and the winey broth over the fish. I topped the fish with mint and lemon zest – but you can just throw in some parsley and squeeze a little lemon juice over the top. Grill a few chunks of good crusty bread to sop up the juices and serve making sure that everybody gets some of the broth.
We had this with a green salad for which Beez made a perfect dressing of lemon juice and olive oil and we both kept saying ‘grazie’ and replying ‘prego’ until we couldn’t eat any more.
(You can cook this on top of a stove – you’ll not have the smoky flavor which makes the oysters worth fighting over, but you’ll still have a healthy, dramatic and delicious meal.)
Cleaning shellfish. You have, of course, kept your shellfish on ice in the refrigerator. These babies are alive and you need to keep them that way until you cook them. Now, clean them under cold running water and keep them chilled (that is to say, you can clean them ahead of time and keep them under a damp towel in the refrigerator). For cleaning, it’s best to use a stiff nylon brush and you should scrub for some time at the crevices between the two halves of the oyster shells since they usually have a good build-up of sand –and don’t forget to de-beard the mussels. And stop complaining – the prep is worth it and after you’ve done this a few times your efficiency will improve, your prep time will shorten and you will soon have that wine or beer or martini or perfect bourbon Manhattan in one hand and your cooking tongs in the other, master of your grilling deck or patio, as happy as one of the clams you’ll be cooking is surely not.