Traverse City Record-Eagle

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February 28, 2013

Steamed clams deliver big flavor

I’d love to claim that this wonderful recipe required hours of arduous research and testing (not to mention the expert application of all of my hard-won culinary skills) before I was able to settle on the exact proportions of its ideal ingredients. But I’d be lying. In truth, I had almost nothing to do with it. The clams did it.

Certain ingredients — including clams, mussels, rack of lamb, skirt steak and dark chocolate — make meals delicious with very little effort on your part. Really, you’d have to be an idiot to screw them up. Clams and mussels are especially generous, delivering a one-two punch of taste thrills: the succulent bivalves themselves and the deeply flavorful juices that stream out of them when they’re cooked.

My favorite way to mess with clams is to steam them, as in this recipe. You toss all the ingredients into a pot, pile on the clams, put on the lid, crank up the heat, and presto! Ten minutes later the dish is done. The only problem is that the clam liquor at the bottom of the pot is so tasty that I’m forced to sop it up with slice after slice of bread.

That’s why I decided to bulk up this dish with broccoli rabe, a healthy and savory vegetable that absorbs some of the clam liquor as it cooks (though the clam liquor that remains still cries out for at least a slice or two of toasted country-style bread).

As a way of blunting the vegetable’s slightly bitter edge, your first step with broccoli rabe is to blanch it. Cut off the tough ends of the stems, then boil it all in a large pot of salted water for two minutes. Next, drain it and transfer it to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. Finally, chop it crosswise into pieces about 1/2-inch thick. It’s just much easier to eat that way. The garlic, chili sauce, ginger and sesame oil in the broth are complements strong enough to stand up to the robustness of the broccoli rabe.

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