Home Cooking Aboard Head Over Heels for Mollusk Meals

Head Over Heels for Mollusk Meals

by Bill Shaw

As the sounds of the cannon fire and taps signal the lowering of Roche Harbor’s flags of during our last colors ceremony of the summer, we say goodbye to our guests, seasonal staff, and all the warm memories that made for a great summer in the San Juans.

The days are shorter and the nights are a little colder, but for me, October is my favorite month of all. Things slow down a bit and allow me to reflect on the menus of the summer and look forward to savory stews, braised lamb shanks, roasted winter squashes, and the comfort foods we all enjoy.

I recently headed out the door at sunrise to the calming sound of a distant foghorn, my drive to work less than calm as I navigated through the thick fog and startled deer to Roche Harbor. On my way into work, I stopped at Westcott Bay Shellfish to pick up some clams and oysters for the evening service. Westcott Bay grows Manila clams or Japanese littleneck clams, which migrated here on bottoms of sailing ships amongst the barnacles and mussels. These chubby little clams are known for their meat-to-shell ratio, tender bite, and sweet taste. They make a perfect steamed clam with butter, fresh herbs, garlic, and white wine; and when making chowder, these are the only clams you should use.

I have always known that the Northwest is a great place to grow shellfish, but it wasn’t until I visited Europe on my 50th birthday with my wife Rose that I realized that the Puget Sound is the shellfish basket of the world. I was amazed how frequently our shellfish farms appeared on menus in Europe.

This month I wanted to explore these famous little mollusks and share a few recipes that you can enjoy with your friends and family while cruising, tied up to the dock, or at home by a warm fire.

Roche Harbor Clam Chowder

Roche Harbor Clam Chowder

When I first arrived a Roche Harbor, the Dungeness Bisque was the only soup we served. The pictured clam chowder recipe, added in 1994, was inspired by the fresh herbs we were getting from Nootka Rose Farm on Waldron Island and, of course, the fresh Manila clams from our neighbor Westcott Bay Shellfish. I prefer to use fresh herbs, but dry herbs can be substituted with decreasing the recipe amount by half. Have fun with this recipe by adding fresh salmon, spot prawns, and Dungeness crab for an amazing seafood chowder, best served with warm crusty sourdough bread.

Serves 6 (12-ounce servings)

  • 8 ounces red potatoes, skin on, diced ½”, cooked al dente
  • 4 ounces bacon, sliced 1/8”
  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup celery, chopped ¼”
  • ¾ cup onion, chopped ¼”
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 2 Tablespoons clam base, no MSG
  • 10 ounces clam nectar
  • 5 ounces canned surf clams, chopped in juice (juice reserved)
  • 1 quart half and half
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • Pinch white pepper, ground
  • 1 teaspoon fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1 each bay leaf
  • 2 pounds live local clams, washed, steamed, and removed from shell
  • ¼ cup parsley, finely chopped

Directions: In a saucepan, bring 1 quart of water to boil and add red potatoes. Reduce heat to bring potatoes to a slow rolling boil. Remove from heat when potatoes are firm to the bite without any crunch. Set aside.

Heat a 4-quart heavy bottom sauce pan over medium-high heat, add bacon and cook until 50 percent of bacon fat is rendered, then add butter. When butter is melted, add celery, onion, and garlic. Continue cooking and stirring until the vegetables are cooked al dente.
Reduce heat to medium and add flour. Stir flour into vegetable and bacon mixture until flour is combined into mixture. Continue stirring and turning mixture for 10 minutes. Meanwhile dissolve clam base into clam nectar. Add clam nectar, clam base, and reserved clam juice into the roux and vegetable mixture. Stir to incorporate fully.

Add half and half, black pepper, white pepper, basil, marjoram, dill, thyme, and bay leaf. Continue stirring chowder and slowly bring the temperature up to 185 degrees, then add cooked potatoes, chopped clams, whole clams, and parsley. Reduce heat and hold chowder at 140 degrees until ready to serve.

Northwest Steam Pot with
Smokey Andouille Sausage

Fresh clams, mussels, Dungeness crab, spot prawns, and a scallop or two steamed in white wine, butter, garlic, fresh herb, smoky pork fat and, of course, crispy garlic bread for dipping the wonderful broth. Does it get any better than that? Even before I landed the job as executive chef at Roche, I served this recipe on my menus in Bellevue and Seattle and named it “Roche Harbor Steam Pot.” Little did I know that I would make Roche Harbor my home for almost three decades. When making this recipe, fresh seafood is the most important ingredient. The clams and mussels should be tight-lipped, if any are open, give them a quick shake and if they do not close, throw them
overboard to the crabs. Also give them a quick rinse under running water to remove any sand.

Serves 6

  • 4 ounces butter
  • 6 ounces Andouille sausage, sliced in half then cut into ½” thick half-moons.
  • 2 Tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 12 ounces Manila clams, rinsed to remove any sand
  • 12 ounces mussels, debearded
  • 4 ounces white wine
  • 2 teaspoons fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 1 each Dungeness crab, broken up into leg sections with body meat attached
  • 8 ounces spot prawns, split in half with serrated paring knife

Directions: In a large sauce pan over medium-high heat, add butter, garlic, and sliced Andouille sausage. Using a wooden spoon, stir sausage until most of fat is rendered (about 4 minutes). Add clams and mussels, then stir until coated in butter and fat.

Turn heat to medium, add white wine, basil, thyme, parsley, black pepper, and Dungeness crab to clam mixture. Place lid over pan and allow to steam for 5 to 8 minutes or when clams begin to open. Add split prawn and replace lid. Continue to steam until all clams and mussels are open. Then turn off heat, replace lid, and allow to finish.

If all the clams or mussels open except one or two, they may be just stubborn. Remove the unopened mollusks, open them with a butter knife and give them a quick smell. If they smell like an ocean breeze then place them back in the pot. If they do not smell good, discard them immediately.

Meanwhile, prepare some crusty garlic bread and place in oven to brown and slice in handsized pieces for dipping. Pour finished steam pot ingredients into a large ceramic bowl or serve in cooking pot. Garnish with fresh sliced lemon and serve immediately.

Chef’s Note: Mudders. This is a term used for clamshells that are filled with sand but have sealed shut and appear as a perfectly good clam. These “mudder shuckers” will ruin your steam pot and deposit their sand in your broth. Give your clams a good inspection before placing in your pot.

Northwest Steam Pot with Smokey Andouille Sausage

Thai Green Curry Mussels

Thai Green Curry Mussels

I must admit that I prefer mussels to clams and always have. Mussels grow everywhere along the coast, they require little effort to collect, no purging is necessary, they are naturally tender, and they are simply delicious. That being said, I have tried for the past 25 years to serve them on Roche Harbor menus and they will not sell with the exception of a few like-minded individuals. Guests will ask, “Can I have the green curry mussels but substitute clams,” or “I’d like the steam pot but could you leave out the mussels and give me extra clams?” Did I tell you that mussels are also gluten free? Ok, maybe I have taken this a little too far, but please give mussels a try. This recipe is one of my favorites and yes, you can substitute clams!

  • 2 ½ pounds mussels
  • 2 Tablespoons of peanut oil (can substitute with any oil)
  • ½ cup yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 each Thai chili, sliced thin
  • 2 Tablespoons Thai green curry paste (sold in most stores)
  • 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 each lime, cut into wedges

Directions: Heat oil in large pan or stockpot over medium-high heat. Add oil and onion, continue to sauté until onions are soft. Add garlic, ginger, and chili and cook for a minute. Add curry paste, lime zest, and fish sauce; cook while stirring until well combined. Add coconut milk and reduce heat to a simmer.

Heat comfort level – taste sauce at this point. The sauce should be slightly spicy hot at your first taste but then level off. Add more curry paste to your liking.

Add the mussels and stir to combine the flavors before closing the lid tightly. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes until all the mussels open. Stir mussels gently in pot to cover in sauce. Pour curried mussels into a large serving bowl and garnish with lime wedge and fresh cilantro leaves. Can be served as a main course with rice or noodles.

Chef’s Note: Choosing mussels. Most mussels are farmed sustainably, making them an excellent choice. Penn Cove is the most famous in our area, and you can see their trucks all over I-5 each morning as they fill the refrigerators of seafood restaurants in your area. Penn Cove sells mussels to grocery stores without beards and are the easiest to deal with.

The beard is a fibrous growth that comes out of their shells and helps them attach to shoreline rocks, pilings, and my skiff. If you cannot find them without their beards, no worries, they are easy to remove. Simply grasp the little beard in one hand and the mussel in the other and pull the beard off toward the hinge. Then take a green kitchen scrubby and buff off the remaining fibers under cold running water.

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