I am really proud of this recipe. It’s based on the 'nduja clams I tasted at Bestia in Los Angeles last year. The dish was astounding - meaty, briny and piquant, with powerful ingredients that sang in harmony. Long after the clams had been eaten we were dipping our fingers into the leftover sauce and licking them until there was nothing left. I would never have guessed there was preserved lemon in there had I not asked our waitress. It is added sparingly - just enough to lift the sauce without making itself overtly known.
Every time I make this dish I'm bowled over again by how beautifully the clams and porky sausage work together with the help of a little lemon. The flavours are genius - if you like bold tastes I couldn't recommend this more highly.
Serves three as a starter or two as a main course.
750g clams, palourdes or a mix e.g. palourdes and larger littlenecks
1 tbsp olive oil
½ banana shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
100ml semi-dry cider e.g. Aspall Premier Cru
1 tsp lovage leaves, minced
90g ‘nduja, I use 'Nduja Artisans
2 tsp preserved lemon, minced
1-2 tsp sugar
1-2 tsp lemon juice, I use Meyer lemons if I can
A handful of parsley leaves, chopped
What to do
Rinse your clams and if you have time soak them overnight in the fridge in a solution of 1 litre filtered water to 35g sea salt. Don’t use salt with iodine as it will kill the clams. This will encourage the clams to disgorge any grit inside them.
The next day, pour away the salt water. Rinse each clam individually and throw away any that are open and don’t close when tapped against a hard surface.
Put the clams in one layer in a shallow, wide pot, cover and place over a high flame for 3-4 minutes. The clams will steam and open. If you have a mix of different sized clams take out the smaller ones after 3-4 minutes and leave the larger ones for another minute or two. The clam meat should still be very soft at this point. Transfer the clams and clam juice to a bowl and cover to keep warm.
Rinse the pot to get rid of any remaining grit or other debris. Return to the stove over a low heat. Add the oil, shallots and garlic and give them a quick stir. Cover and allow them to sweat and soften for five minutes or so but be careful they don’t brown and burn. When the shallots are translucent and soft pour in the cider. Turn the heat up and let the alcohol bubble off for a minute then pour in the clam juice from the covered bowl of clams and add the lovage leaves. Let everything simmer for another minute so the ingredients can get to know each other.
Add the ‘nduja and minced preserved lemon and stir to combine. Taste the sauce and adjust its saltiness by adding sugar and lemon a little at a time. You may not need all of either – keep tasting after each addition. I often find just over a teaspoon of sugar and a few teaspoons of lemon juice does the job. If you find you added too much sweet or sour add some more ‘nduja sparingly.
When the sauce is to your liking return the clams to the pot and gently mix to coat them with the ‘nduja mixture. Allow the clams to simmer for 2-3 minutes to warm through and finish cooking. Give a piece of clam meat a little poke with your finger – it should feel firm but still tender. Too little time and they will lack bite, too much and they will be chewy. Add the chopped parsley, season with black pepper and stir again to combine.
Serve the clams in shallow bowls with spoons for scooping up leftover sauce, and crusty toasted bread if you want to make the dish more substantial.