How to clean clams and mussels before cooking

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Dear Lynne,

Can you get sand out of clams and mussels before cooking?  

Denise in Greenville

Dear Denise,

How fondly I remember my first try at spaghetti in clam sauce complete with mouthfuls of grit!

Purge away nearly all the sand by first scrubbing shells with a brush and cutting away any of the mussels’ “beards.”

Debate goes on over the next step, so I’ll tell you what works for me. Submerge the mollusks in a bowl of ice water. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons of cornmeal for every quart of water. Refrigerate 1 to several hours. Drain, rinse and cook. If a little sand remains, either ignore it or strain it away. Here’s a stew we improvised.

-Lynne

Clams and Mussels in Garlic-Tomato Broth

Serves 2 to 3

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • A generous pinch hot red pepper flakes
  • A generous pinch saffron threads, or 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 4 shallots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large, ripe tomato, or 3 canned tomatoes, chopped
  • 1-1/2 pounds hard-shell clams, scrubbed and soaked
  • 2 pounds mussels, treated the same way
  • 1-1/2 cups cooked rice (optional)

Instructions

1. In a 6-quart pot combine the olive oil, garlic, pepper, saffron and shallots. Heat 2 minutes over medium high. Add wine, simmer 1 minute and blend in the tomato.

2. Add clams, stir and cover. Simmer over medium-high to medium heat 5 minutes, or until shells start to open. Spoon any open clams out of pot. Some will take longer to open, so keep simmering. 

3. Once most clams are open and removed, add mussels, cover and cook another few minutes, or until shells open. Discard any clams or mussels that don’t open. Taste broth for seasoning. Ladle the broth and all the shell fish into heated bowls, over rice if desired.

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