Clam, Chorizo and Butter Bean Stew
Updated: Apr 6
"Happy as a clam, is what my mother says for happy. I am happy as a clam: hard-shelled, firmly closed."
Margaret Atwood (1939-)
Every December I am reminded that the Dorset clam fishery (Poole Harbour, to be precise), from which pretty much all the clams I buy come, closes from the beginning of January through to the end of May as a measure to ensure the continuity of their stocks. This good husbandry is explicitly recognised by the Marine Stewardship Council. But each of those Decembers I am compelled to offer an idea to champion our native clams before the fishery's closure and realise I should have done so many weeks earlier. And it's no different this year.
Tardiness aside, I've been thinking of doing something like this stew of clams, chorizo and beans for a little while, and it's quite a simple number whose flavourings may well evoke sensations of northern Spain. To that end I have used a splash of Fino Sherry to coax the clams open and used the resulting liquor as the stock for this 'stew'. The rest of the ingredients are practically store cupboard staples.
As a winter seafood dish this is very satisfying and busting with flavour. It can be recommended it be eaten with bread!
Cockles, or indeed mussels would work well here instead of the clams. As would other bean varieties - haricots for sure. By the same token, smoked bacon could easily replace the chorizo in which case you could be forgiven for swapping the sherry for a splash of cider and shifting the geographical essence of the dish further north to south-west England or north-western France.
Recipes like this would traditionally be made with dried beans and there is to be gained by doing so. But for me not enough to get something so tasty on the table in short order by just putting the tin-opener to use.
Clam, Chorizo and Butter Bean Stew
Ingredients (Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a starter)
700g - 1kg clams, washed well
50ml dry sherry, or white wine or vermouth
400ml tin of butter beans in water (or alternative beans, see recipe intro)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
50g chorizo (cooking variety ideally), chopped into ½ cm cubes
1 bay leaf (optional)
1 tsp tomato purée
Dried chilli flakes, optional or quantity to taste
Handful of flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring the sherry (or alternative) to the boil in a large saucepan then tip in the clams, cover with a lid and cook over a high heat for about 3-5 mins, shaking the pan occasionally, until the clams have just opened. Drain through a colander set over a bowl to catch the cooking liquor. Wipe the saucepan dry. Remove about half of the clams from their shells.
Drain the beans through another colander or sieve set over a bowl to collect the liquid from the tin.
Heat the olive oil, chopped shallot, chopped garlic, cubed chorizo and the bay leaf (if using) and sweat gently for a few mins until the shallot has softened and the chorizo has released its oil. Stir in the tomato purée and cook for a further minute. Pour in the reserved liquor from cooking the clams (apart from the last tablespoon or so which may be quite gritty), turn the heat up to medium-high and reduce by half.
Add the beans to the pan and continue to cook for a few mins to soften them a little. Next add about three-quarters of the reserved liquid from the tin of beans and the dried chilli flakes. Simmer a little longer until the liquid has become of a stew-like consistency. Add more of the liquid from the beans if preferring more sauce.
Stir in the clams (both shelled and unshelled) to the pan along with half of the chopped parsley. Cover the pan and continue to simmer for 1-2 mins just to reheat the clams. Check and adjust the seasoning (little or no salt should be required) then transfer to an earthenware dish, scatter with the remaining chopped parsley and serve with lemon wedges and bread.
"Poole Harbour Clam and Cockle", Marine Stewardship Council, website accessed 23 December 2021