Razor Clams with Black Beans and Chilli
Updated: Aug 23, 2020
"Plain boiled food, plain boiled thinking. Even his name is plain boiled: John. Maybe because I grew up with black bean sauce and hoisin sauce and garlic sauce, I always feel something is missing when my son-in-law talk."
Gish Jen (1998)
It's always a pleasure to greet produce back into its season and these last two weekends saw the return of razor clams for their annual summer outing. But the real pleasure yesterday was to see Martin and Bridget back where our community of Seafoodies love them best: serving on the market stall. Their return was warmly welcomed by so many long-standing customers.
Razor clams are not to everyone's taste and I suspect that's partly because they are likely first encountered by the unfamiliar in a very unprepared state, for example, having been opened on a hot "plancha" and served more or less like that. This means they still have the inedible foot intact and the grittier end all-too-present. I can't help thinking that they would be much more widely appreciated had they been introduced for the first time with the cleaning and trimming already done (and done so probably out of sight). But I could be totally wrong. It's just that, considering how popular clams like Palourdes are (and they usually just need to be scooped straight out of the shell), there isn't really much else to explain why, what connoisseurs of both types of clam would argue is the superior in terms of flavour, they should be less well-liked.
In terms of taste and texture I personally find them to be something of a mix of a "regular" clam and a whelk (which, incidentally, have also only recently reappeared on the stall), and I find myself reaching for very similar tastes and treatments for whelks and razor clams, albeit that one species fetches a far higher price than the other. One flavour route I am frequently minded to travel is a south-east Asian one, and it is palpable the appetite that the customers hailing from that particular region have for both species, especially the razors. But the idea of Chinese flavourings with razor clams came up a couple of weekends ago in conversation with a Liverpudlian customer by the name of Paul and indeed, the recipe I have chosen is one I saw on "Rick Stein's Food Heroes: Another Helping" back when the series was first aired. I put the recipe to Diana, a Chinese friend from the stall, and she gave the recipe her nod of approval (and believe me, when you see pictures of her seafood creations, hers is an opinion worth noting!), so I what I give below is to all intents and purpose Rick Stein's recipe and full credit it should have.
This could be served as a main course with rice as Rick Stein suggests, for which you would certainly want a dozen clams of the size we buy from the stall to serve two. However, served unaccompanied, I think with 3-4 clams per person, this makes an absolutely fabulous starter.
This is probably the first time I've cooked with black beans, but there really is nothing to it. Here, just mash them up with a bit of sugar and give them a quick stir in hot oil ahead of your other stir-fry ingredients. Sourcing them may be a bit more tricky than cooking with them but I've put a link to the product I was able to buy in my local Asian grocers.
If you don't have Shaoxing rice wine there's no need to let that get in the way of making this dish. You're going to discard it once the clams have opened so an equivalent quantity of dry white wine or even just water will serve the purpose.
As with all stir-fries, the cooking is very rapid (about 2 minutes from once the clams have been opened and sliced), so you serve yourself well to have all the ingredients prepared before you start. Serving the dish on a bed of some of the clam shells is totally optional, but has a certain elegance in the presentation.
Razor Clams with Black Beans and Chilli
Ingredients (Serves 2 as a main course or 3-4 as a starter, see recipe into)
One dozen razor clams, washed well
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine (or dry white wine or water)
2 tsp salted fermented black beans
Caster sugar, a good pinch
1 tbsp cooking oil (sunflower, vegetable, groundnut)
2 tsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
½ medium hot red chilli, very finely sliced (or quantity to taste)
1 tsp dark soy sauce
4-6 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
Picked coriander leaves, for garnish (optional)
Heat the Shaoxing rice wine or alternative in a sauté pan or deep-sided frying pan until boiling then put in the razor clams, cover and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the clams have opened. Drain them through a colander and when cool enough to handle remove the meats from the shells, reserving some shells for presentation, if liked. Remove any unwanted parts of the clam meats and cut the desired parts into 1" pieces, on the diagonal, and keep aside.
Put the black beans on a chopping board, sprinkle them with the caster sugar and give them a rough chopping.
Heat the two oils in the same pan as used earlier and, when hot, add the chopped black beans, the ginger and the garlic. Fry for 30 seconds then add the sliced clam meats and the sliced chilli. Stir fry for a minute or so until the clams have picked up some colour. Pour over the soy sauce and add most of the spring onions. Toss together briefly then remove from the heat.
Serve the stir-fry on a couple of reserved clam shells (optional) garnished with the remaining spring onions and picked coriander leaves.
"Rick Stein's Food Heroes - Another Helping", Rick Stein (2004), pp. 75: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rick-Steins-Food-Heroes-Another/dp/B00H3QW660
Temple Brand Fermented Salted Black Beans, Tradewinds, accessed 6 June 2020