Portuguese Chorizo and Clams
When I was a free-loading University student, I lived in an area of Toronto that was just outside of Little Italy, a block or two north east of the Portuguese district and about 2 blocks south of the Korean grocery stores. It was glorious. Right on the corner of my street was a tiny little Portuguese churrasqueira restaurant that had the most delicious spit roasted chicken with Piri Piri hot pepper sauce. Even for my Grandmother, the generous lady who let me live like a rent free bat in her basement for four years, the Portuguese barbecued chicken was a regular dinner time staple.
Just a few door down from “The Chicken Store”, as my Grandmother called it, the streets were peppered with more traditional Portuguese restaurants that ranged from family style to fancy fare. After working a few lucrative shifts at the bar, when I was feeling flush enough to treat myself, I would frequently bypass the Piri Piri pit and dine in instead. It was there that I had my first taste of baccalau, in a hash made from waxy potatoes and boiled salt fish with gentle herbs and seasoning. That was also where I ordered “Grill Fish BBQ” and received a gigantic plate, adorned with nothing more than a sprig of parsley and a lemon wedge, housing an Orca sized whole grilled fish…eyeballs and all. I had never been tasked with the dissection of a whole grilled fish before, but I steeled myself and started to carefully cut away fillet from bone. After a few tentative bites of the smoky, sweet meat I promptly licked the plate clean until there was nothing more than a cartoon version of a fish tail on the Flintstone serving set.
It was also at that little Portuguese restaurant that I had my first bowl of chorizo and clams. The delicious combination of smoky, rich meat and fresh, sweet seafood is almost iconic in Portuguese cuisine, and with one bite you’ll understand why. It is such a simple, rustic dish, but the balance of bold and subtle flavors is superb. When I thought about a FIFA World Cup (and Saucer) entry for Portugal, I knew that it had to be either salt cod (Mike blanched and vehemently rejected that idea, the silly man) or my nostalgic favorite, chorizo and clams.
Portuguese Chorizo and Clams
Serves 4 with a crusty loaf on the side
- 4 lb clams*
- 2 links (200 g/ ) Portuguese chorizo sausage
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion
- 3 large (or 4 medium) cloves garlic
- 3 large very ripe tomatoes (450 g / )
- 3-4 waxy white potatoes (600 g/ )
- 2 cups white wine
- 4-5 sprigs fresh oregano (2 tbsp finely minced)
- small handful fresh parsley (3-4 tbsp finely minced)
- salt and pepper to taste
* Look for small, tender clams like Manila or Little-neck, which are also sometimes (reprehensibly) known as “pasta clams”.
Sprinkle a tablespoon of fine cornmeal into a large bucket (or bowl, because seriously, do you have a “large bucket” that hasn’t housed Pinesol at one time or another?) filled most of the way with ice cold water. Gently place the clams in the water and leave them to soak for at least 30 minutes before rinsing them off and leaving them to continue soaking in clear water. This will help to remove any residual dirt that the clams might be hiding inside their suspicious little bivalve maws.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven.
Quarter the onion lengthwise and then slice it horizontally about 1/8″ thick. Mince the garlic, and add both to the oil. Saute the aromatics for 4-6 minutes, or until the onion is golden.
Chop the chorizo into 1/2 rounds and add these to the pot.
Saute the chorizo with the onions until it is starting to brown, which will take about 5 minutes. Be vigilant and keep stirring so that the onions and garlic do not blacken and burn, which will be their tendency. Browned is fine, but burned is not.
Peel the potatoes and cube them into large bite sized pieces. When the chorizo is browned, add the potatoes to the pot and give them a stir.
Cook the potatoes for 3-5 minutes, or until they are golden with that glorious fat released from the chorizo.
In the mean time, finely dice your tomatoes. Add the tomatoes to the mix and immediately start to scrape up the flavorful brown bits that have collected on the bottom of the pot. Those bits represent flavor, pure and simple. The liquid from the tomatoes will act as a deglazing agent, which is rather fortuitous.
Finely mince the oregano leaves and discard the stems. Or, if you don’t have fresh oregano, use 2 teaspoons of dried. When the tomatoes are broken down, which will take about 5-6 minutes depending on their ripeness, add the oregano and give things a stir.
Pour in the white wine and seal the pot with a fairly tight fitting lid. Turn the heat down just slightly so that the liquid is simmering, not boiling. Let this cook for 7-10 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender.
Drain the clams and add them to the pot, picking through and discarding any clams that are open and do not shut when you rap them gently on the counter. Give the clams a stir in the flavorful chorizo broth and replace the lid. Let the pot simmer, sealed, for 5-7 minutes. Give the clams a check; if they’re open, perfect! Season with salt and pepper and you’re done. If only about half the shells have opened up, pick out the cooked open clams and leave the rest to continue cooking for another minute or two.
Give the pot a final stir, check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary, and sprinkle with finely chopped parsley right before serving.
Make sure that there is plenty of fresh, chewy peasant style bread on hand to soak up all those marvelous juices.
I love the honest simplicity of Portuguese food, and this is no exception. Rustic but mouthwatering, if you have never paired chorizo with clams, you don’t know what you’re missing out on!