If you have ever been to Cedar Key, then you probably had a clam dish at one of the restaurants there. Just about all of them offer linguine with clam sauce. I thought I’d explain how I make that dish. It’s very easy, and that’s probably why it’s on menus all over the world.
There are many kinds of clams in Florida. The most popular are the northern and southern quahogs (say “KOH-hog”). They can be found around here, but not as densely as they are up around the Big Bend area of the Florida coastline. Quahogs can live up to 20 years, according to the FWC website, and they grow their shells about a half-inch per year.
Cedar Key is of the main areas where clams are raised and harvested. When I went to Cedar Key, it made me wonder if this was what Key West was like a hundred years ago. It seemed to me like a place that progress had forgotten about. It’s a sleepy little fishing town with the same drinking problem that every other place the in the world has.
When I decided to do a column on clams, I thought I would make clams casino. But I decided to prepare the one dish that I think must everyone who likes clams has probably had at some point in their lives.
I find the key to this dish is timing. You don’t want to simmer your sauce too long or overcook your clams. So, make sure you have everything in front of you before you begin.
You can use canned chopped clams if you want, but I don’t. I like to see the shells in the dish and prefer the texture of whole clams over the chopped ones. Also, the canned clams are much saltier than the whole clams. I do use a can of clam juice, which has a little less sodium than the juice in a can of chopped clams. The chopped clam can that I read before writing this indicated that more sodium is added to retain flavor. I think clams have plenty of flavor and you can always grab the salt shaker on your table and add more if you think it needs more salt.
Speaking of salt, usually I salt the water that I will cook my pasta in to add flavor to the pasta. In this recipe, there is already enough salt for my palate, so I just add a small amount of oil to help it keep from sticking together during cooking. I add a little more oil to the pasta after I strain it to make sure it doesn’t adhere.
As for the wine I use for this dish, I want to make sure it’s dry and crisp, like an unoaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. I want bright acidity and certainly don’t want any sweetness, so don’t use a Moscato to make this dish.
Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more info, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.
Linguine with Clams
1 pound linguine pasta
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp chopped parsley
2 pounds hard clams in shell
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup clam juice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp fresh chopped garlic
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Boil the pasta and toss it with a small amount of oil after strained and keep it warm. Next, on medium heat, melt the butter with the oil and then add the onions and pepper flakes and sauté for about a minute. Now add the herbs, Old Bay, clams, lemon juice, clam juice and wine. Simmer until the clams have opened. Add the garlic and simmer for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and divide your pasta into four portions and do the same with your clams and sauce. Pour the clams and sauce over your pasta and garnish with a small amount of Parmesan. Serves 4.
— Recipe by Chef Tim Spain, ChefTimSpain.com