Juicy, salty black bean clams

My idea of how black bean clams should taste is so addictively delicious that it is heartbreaking when the actual dish I have made does not taste as I imagined. In my mind, you should have bouncy, juicy clams, scented with garlic and undertones of ginger, enlivened with the crunch of spring onions, warmed with chilli and spiked with salty nubs of mashed black bean.

 

I've tried making this before and often ended up with either an imbalanced sauce (too weak or overly salty) or over/undercooked clams. Finally I realised that trying to get both things right at the same time was too difficult. Instead I tried splitting them - there's an extra step in this recipe but I really think it helps give good results.

 

We used clams dug out of the sand on an island off the sunshine coast of Vancouver, rinsed and left in seawater over night. Here’s a great article about how to purge grit from clams. If you don’t have seawater 35g natural sea salt diluted in one litre of water is a good substitute.

 

Ingredients

 

1.5kg clams, large fat Palourdes are ideal

50ml Shaoxing wine, or white wine/dry sherry

3 tbsp groundnut oil

5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2cm ginger, peeled and finely chopped

5 spring onions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated

1 chilli, finely chopped

1½ tbsp fermented black beans, rinsed and roughly mashed

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

3 tbsp chicken or vegetable stock

1 tsp potato starch, dissolved in a little water

Sugar

 

What you need

 

A large wok and cover ideally, or otherwise a wide and deep saucepan

 

What to do

 

Put the clams into a dry wok, add the wine, cover and steam over a high heat, shaking the pan every now and then, until the clams start to open. Remove opened clams and transfer to a covered bowl to keep in the warmth and moisture. Discard any stubborn clams that refuse to open after 10mins or so of cooking, and reserve the leftover liquid.

 

Heat the wok over a high heat until smoke rises. Add the oil, swirl and then add the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry quickly until they smell fragrant without starting to burn, then add the white spring onion and chillies and stir-fry again until you can smell their aroma. Turn down the heat if they start to burn too quickly. Add the mashed black beans, then the reserved clam juice and the stock. Allow the liquid to come to the boil, taste and add the dark soy sauce a little at a time, tasting as you go. You may not need it all. If the broth tastes too salty, add some sugar, barely teaspoon as a time. The sauce should not be a little sweet and not too salty, depending on your tastes.

 

When the seasoning is adjusted to your liking, stir in the potato starch and water mix and return the clams to the pan. Keep stirring and tossing the clams for about five minutes until the clams are cooked but are still juicy and tender. They should be lightly coated with the glossy black bean sauce. Add more water or stock if the sauce becomes too thick, and adjust the sugar and soy sauce balance one last time.

 

Scatter over the green spring onions and tip onto a large serving plate, scraping out all the remaining sauce and dribbling it over the clams. Eat immediately with your fingers, sucking the clam meat and sauce off the shells.