It’s Friday night and you’re: a) wanting to cook up something special for your significant other, b) having friends over and need to whip up something that’s easy to prepare but looks impressive, or c) will be staying in solo with your PJs and your DVR and need something quick and tasty that doesn’t involve greasy takeout.
The dinner solution for all scenarios: Bacon, lemon-thyme and tomato bivalves. It’s a loose interpretation of the BLT — mussels and clams steamed in a broth of white wine, bacon, onions, garlic and lemon-thyme (I needed an ingredient starting with L, and I’m not crazy about leeks) and finished simply with fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of parsley. Oh, and of course there has to be crusty bread served alongside to soak up that tasty broth. Best of all, it’s done in a jiffy and only requires one pan to cook.
Obviously, this isn’t the most prim and proper dish to be eating in front of strangers whom you’d like to impress, which is why I recommend eating it with people who will forgive you for using your fingers and making loud slurping noises (or alone so you can have it all to yourself).
Some quick bivalve purchasing tips: When buying clams and mussels in the seafood section, they’ll typically sort through your bivalves before handing them over to make sure they’re all closed. (Closed bivalves are still alive — which is a good thing.) If you’re picking them yourself or have just thawed a frozen pack, discard any that are open. To double check, tap them on the side of your counter — if they close, keep ’em; if they remain open, chuck ’em. Eating dead mussels could potentially result in food poisoning. Reversely, you’ll want to discard any that don’t open after they’ve been cooked, as they’re either really stubborn or dead.
As for cleaning them, give them a good rinse before throwing them in the pot and “debeard” the mussels. No, they’re not ZZ Top wannabes, the “beard” is actually a byssal thread that mussels use to cling to surfaces in the water.
3 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/2 pound small or medium hard-shelled clams, scrubbed
1 1/2 cup dry white wine (like Sauvignon Blanc)
A few sprigs of lemon thyme, leaves removed (substitute regular thyme or tarragon)
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 French baguette, sliced and toasted
1. Render the bacon in a large pot on medium-high heat until crisp. Take the pot off the heat and remove the bacon with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels. Pour out all but one tablespoon of the bacon grease.
2. Put the pot on medium heat and add the onions, sautéing until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and let it cook for about a minute before adding the shellfish and thyme to the pot.
3. Pour the wine over the mixture, increase the heat to medium-high heat, give the mix a good stir and cover with a lid or piece of aluminum foil so it will create steam inside and the shellfish will open. Give it a good shake a few times while cooking.
4. Take the lid off the pan and the pan off of the heat once all or most of the shellfish have opened. (This will take just a few minutes.) Reduce the heat to medium-low, simmer for a minute, then add the chopped tomatoes and lemon juice to the mixture. Remove the pan from the heat, sprinkle the parsley over everything, season to taste and ladle the mixture into bowls.
5. Serve with the toasted baguette slices, an extra bowl for the empty shells and whatever wine you used to cook the dish with.