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Classic linguine with clam sauce is a favorite of ours. We love a perfectly cooked bowl of pasta coated with a delicate yet flavorful sauce that's packed with the flavor of clams, garlic, white wine, and parsley. Many places now add a hint of smoky bacon, which only makes it better. We were eager to play with this dish and were thinking about ideas when we hit our local Korean grocery. As we wandered through the aisles, we were inspired by all of the ingredients around us. Fresh pasta turned into Korean rice cakes, and the classic clam sauce became something nuanced and spicy with the addition of fried onions, spicy seaweed, gochujang (Korean chili paste), kimchi, and garlic chives. It's not what we were initially planning to make, but it's one of the best clam dishes we've ever tasted.
The finished dish has several components: cryo-shucked clams, smoked Korean rice cake, gochujang ghee, clam sauce, and a crispy fried-onion topping. The whole recipe can be made over the course of a couple days, so today we'll kick things off with three of the components that can be started a day ahead—the cryo clams, gochujang ghee, and smoke rice cakes—and then tomorrow we'll finish with the remaining components, along with instructions on how to pull the whole dish together.
Let's get shucking!
The Cryo-Shucked Clams
This is our favorite method for prepping fresh clams that we want to remove from their shells before cooking, since it requires absolutely no clam-shucking skills at all.
First, we brine the clams for an hour and a half in three changes of 3% salt water. The 3% brine mimics the average salinity of the ocean, which helps the clams purge themselves of any sand and grit they might be hiding inside.
Once the clams are purged, we freeze them on a rimmed sheet pan and then transfer them to the refrigerator to defrost. As they thaw, they pop open naturally and any juices that escape are captured in the pan. Then we pry them open the rest of the way and shuck them over a bowl. We get all of the meat and juice without having to struggle with a clam knife.
Once shucked, we trim the clams with scissors, separating the belly and foot from the rest of the clam. The belly and foot are reserved until the last minute of the clam sauce preparation, when they'll be stirred in and lightly cooked. The trimmings, meanwhile, are added to the reserved clam juices and used to flavor the base of the clam sauce.
We like cooking with ghee (Indian clarified butter) because, infused with other ingredients, it is one of the most flavorful cooking fats we know. In this case we made a spicy Korean-inspired ghee using the deep, subtle heat of the Korean chili paste called gochujang.
Along the way we discovered that bourbon and toasted sesame seeds are an amazing flavor combination—they work really well together, creating a complex, sweet, nutty flavor—so we accented the gochujang ghee with that as well. (It's a flavor combination we like so much that we'll definitely be using it in other dishes again and again.)
While we do use all of the ghee in this recipe, you can make it again (or double the recipe) and use it to sauté shrimp or fish, or even to steam clams or mussels for a great, flavorful dipping broth.
Smoked Korean Rice Cakes
Korean rice cakes have a wonderful, chewy texture that's elastic and resilient, along with a slightly sweet flavor. They happily absorb and balance strongly flavored sauces. Plus, the time needed to thoroughly chew the cakes gives a great, complex sauce time to bloom on your palate. We loved the idea of changing up linguine alle vongole by using rice cakes in place of the pasta; after all, white clam risotto is a wonderful dish that exemplifies the appeal of using a different starch.
Many white clam sauces call for bacon, but we decided to smoke the rice cakes instead, giving them a deeper flavor that accents the natural richness of the clams.
To smoke the rice cakes, we take two disposable aluminum roasting pans, and cut holes in the bottom of one of them.
In the roasting pan without holes, we sprinkle wood chips and get them smoking on the stovetop.
Fine wood chips begin to smoke more quickly than larger chips.
Once the chips are smoldering, it's time to smoke the rice cakes.
We set the rice cakes in the pan with the holes in it, and nest that on top of the smoking wood chips, then cover the whole thing with aluminum foil. Once it's well-sealed and filled with smoke, we turn off the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes.
As we mentioned above, all of these components can be started a day in advance, then held for the next day when you finish the recipe. Stay tuned for the rest of the recipe tomorrow!