Clams in Portugal
Liz and I
took a week’s holiday and flew to the Algarve. We were testing what Portugal
would be like before driving there later in the year. We hired a car and, not
being people who sit on the beach, we drove up in the hills where we found a
restaurant with people sitting outside eating clams in the sun. There were
plenty of customers enjoying the wine and tucking into fish or fancy cakes.
In the restaurant
was a young woman who was nervously chain-smoking with her long hair in curlers.
She had a loud American accent, and her appearance was scruffy. I noticed there
were cameramen with tripods. They called her outside, and dressed her in
clothes that clearly didn’t fit so they proceeded to put large clips up her
back to gather in the extra material. They took a lot of photographs, then she
went inside to have more cigarettes and coffee. It was a photoshoot for a
clothes catalogue. Occasionally the young woman was joined by a man for happy
family shots - he appeared from nowhere and was immaculately dressed, he didn’t
need any clips. He never spoke but was a square-jawed American hero that all the
clothes fitted. We went outside to avoid the chain-smoking woman and sat at a
table outside. Liz then looked back at
the restaurant and saw a cat waiting at the kitchen door. At that time we had 8
cats, now 21, and Liz wanted to say "hello” to the cat so we walked to the door
where the cat was waiting. We heard lots of people shouting "olé! olé! olé!
olé!” and the noise of dancing could be heard. As the waiter came out of the
door with two bowls of clams, the cat slipped in. When the door opened again the
cat came out with a giant live cockroach in his mouth, which he began to eat.
The "olés!” were obviously the chefs jumping on the roaches whilst cooking.
Maybe we should have left, but we were hungry and those clams sure smelt good.
They had cooked the garlic whole until it was caramelized, and with lots of
clams and crusty bread it was delicious.
Back at home
we wanted to recreate this dish but we couldn’t make it work. We began to think
the missing ingredient was cockroaches. Then I asked Fernando, a good Portuguese
customer of ours, how it’s done.
Here’s his garlic clam recipe:
Chop up a
small amount garlic finely, with a little thyme or oregano. Add to this lots of
whole, peeled garlic cloves. Heat about a centimetre of olive oil in a pan, when
the oil is hot drop in all the garlic and cook uncovered until the garlic
cloves are golden. Meanwhile, soak the
clams for 15 minutes in seawater or very salty water to re-hydrate them. Do not
use any clams that that will not shut even if you tap them. Slice up some
chilli really finely, about two will do. When the garlic is really well cooked,
strain the clams and tip them in the pan with the chilli. Put a lid on the pan
and leave cooking for about three minutes.
Check to see if the clams have opened. If they have, transfer the clams,
chillis, oil and garlic into a serving dish. Don’t use a plate as you need to
keep all the olive oil to dip your crusty bread into. Serve with a robust red wine.
Find clams here.