When Heinen’s asked me about a recipe for a dish that can be prepared or enjoyed with one of their featured Spanish white wines my thoughts went straight back to my visit to the Basque region of Spain. The coastal flavors and fresh seafood dishes were delicious paired with a crisp white wine in the summer heat. Not speaking Spanish did not stop me from expressing my enthusiasm for the region’s bounty. One of the easiest ways to bring that taste home is with clams steamed in white wine with butter and garlic sauce.
Years ago I waited tables in a restaurant that was well known for a steamed clam appetizer. The clams were served piled high in a glass bowl with another glass bowl inverted on top. Carrying this domed structure to the table was a balancing act for sure. Once at the table, when the clams were sat in front of the customer and the domed lid was removed, I inhaled the wafting steam, rich with the flavors of the sea, wine, butter, garlic, fresh herbs. Today this is still one of my favorite dishes. The crusty bread dipped in the briny, flavorful sauce is the best part of this meal. Put the bowl right on the center of the table and let everyone enjoy.
Clams in White Wine Sauce
- 1 Pound of Fresh Clams
- 1/2 Cup White Wine
- 3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
- 1/2 Lemon
- 2 Tbs Extra Virgin Spanish Olive Oil
- Fresh Parsley and Chives
- 3 Tbs unsalted butter divided
- 1/4 Cup half and half
- Sea Salt
- Loaf of crusty bread
- In a medium-sized sauce pan, turn your burner to medium heat and add 2 tbsp of extra virgin Spanish olive oil and 1 Tbs butter to the pan.
- Add 3 cloves of minced garlic to the sauce pan and mix with the oil cook slowly to soften but do not burn.
- After about 1 minute of cooking the garlic, add 1 pound of fresh clams to the sauce pan and mix with the oil.
- Add a 1/2 cup of white wine, freshly chopped parsley and a small amount of sea salt to the pan and mix with the clams. Cover the sauce pan.
- After about 4-5 minutes remove the lid and all your clams should be open (discard any that did not open).
- Remove from heat and add 2 TBS unsalted butter and half and half. Stir into clams until melted and incorporated.
- Transfer the clams and sauce in the pan to a shallow bowl.
- Garnish the plate with some freshly chopped parsley and a couple slices of lemon. Serve with crusty bread.
The rules for pairing wine and food are not fixed and they are not as strict as they used to be. The basic principle is that the wine and the food should complement, not battle against, each other.
Acidity in a wine brings a light and fresh flavor. That is why an acidic white wine goes well with fish. If you add a complex sauce to that fish, then it is wise to opt for a white wine with more body, fermented in oak barrel, for instance. The wood adds tannins that bring more complexity to the wine and it can better pair with that sauce.
An acidic white will have no taste if paired with grilled ribs and a white fish’s delicate taste can be blurred if paired with a powerful Cabernet. Food can exaggerate a feature in the wine: try for instance eating almonds (very tannic) with a powerful, tannic red wine. The result is quite unpleasant. Try now the almonds with Sherry and you will see how both of them get along well together.
There are some basic rules that should be followed: you cannot match a high-alcohol wine with delicate dishes, for example. But rules should not be limited to the red = meat statement. It is possible to have a white wine with meat or a red wine with fish. For instance, pinot noir is a perfect match for salmon.