This week, I thought we’d divert away from the more homely dishes and have a crack at something a little more ‘cheffy’.
Before you turn the page, though, I will say that this recipe, though it involves a couple of extra processes, really is a doddle, and makes a wonderful dinner party dish, or spectacular lunch. There’s just a little legwork to do in advance, but all of it can be done the previous day, leaving you only a small amount of cooking to do when ready to serve. I don’t often cook seafood dishes, which is silly, really, given we live on an island surrounded by seas teeming with the stuff.
While it would never be my first choice off the menu, sometimes it’s exactly what I fancy eating. Just think of all that wondrous abundance – plump, juicy scallops and sweet-fleshed crabs, or sweet, creamy mussels and silky langoustines.
If I see them on the menu, and I judge the place to be reliable, then I’m always ready for a dozen oysters. I just adore the creaminess of the oysters, and that fresh flavour, like a noseful of sweet, salty fresh sea air, lifted by a prickle of vinegar, lemon or hot Tabasco sauce.
The Bordeaux way of serving oysters, well-chilled alongside small sizzling sausages or meatballs, is, in my opinion, a work of unparalleled genius.
This week, then, we turn to a member of the bivalve family, and one who the British traditionally don’t much bother with, the clam. Where we’ve taken many other shelled creatures to our hearts, like the oyster and the scallop, or our seaside favourites, the winkle and the cockle, it seems we don’t give the clam enough love.
Across the Channel, clams are enjoyed in much larger quantities, especially in the southern part of Europe, and they are much used in the United States, where dishes like Clams Casino have become firmly embedded into the national cuisine, and summertime clam-bake parties are hugely popular up the East Coast.
Here, clams and other shellfish are steamed over armfuls of steaming seaweed, in huge pots, often over beach fires or in domestic gardens, and enjoyed alfresco with much refreshment. One of my favourite clam dishes is the Portuguese speciality Cataplana, a lovely mess of slowly-stewed, garlic-y tomatoes and pork, finished with bucketfuls of fresh clams, and it’s this dish that sowed the seeds for today’s recipe, twice-cooked pork with clams and peas.
Seafood and pork have long held a certain affection for one another, whether it’s bacon-wrapped scallops, or the Cataplana-style stews that appear all around the Mediterranean. The deeply umami flavour of the meat is so harmonious when eaten with rich, saline seafood, from a simple fillet of white fish to dense, tasty lobster. Peas, too, have a strange affinity to both seafood and pork. The sweet, grassy notes cut through the richness marvellously, making for well-balanced dishes.
Here, we’re smashing the peas into a loose purée, and sitting it beneath slices of tender twice-cooked belly pork. The clams are simply steamed in a pan of the pork stock and wine, and scattered all over. A few fresh herbs, and ideally a few pea shoots, along with a drizzle of grassy olive oil, and we’re done. A great warm-weather dish, celebrating the humble clam, an often underappreciated member of the seafood fraternity.
For the pork:
1 x 450g piece belly pork, nice and fat, skin-on
1 small onion, sliced
1 small carrot, sliced
1 stick celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced roughly
A couple of bay leaves
1 star anise
500ml chicken, vegetable or pork stock
A large glass of white wine
Maldon salt & freshly ground black pepper
For the clams:
1kg fresh clams
A splash of white wine
For the smashed peas:
1 medium leek, very finely shredded
2 tablespoons olive oil
A little butter
1 clove garlic, minced
3 small banana shallots, finely diced
Maldon salt & freshly ground black pepper
700g frozen peas, defrosted (or fresh)
A splash of white wine
A little parsley, finely chopped
A little fresh tarragon, chopped
Pea shoots or fresh herbs, for garnish
A little extra-virgin olive oil
First, prepare the clams; clean each clam and discard any broken or dead shells. Pop the rest into a bowl and cover with a damp teatowel until you’re ready to go. To prepare the pork, heat the oven to 170°C / Gas 3.
Season the pork with salt and pepper. In an oven dish large enough to take the pork in one piece snugly, quickly sauté and caramelise the vegetables in a little olive oil.
Deglaze with a glass of wine, and add the pork, the bayleaves and the star anise. Add enough stock to just cover the pork, pop on the lid and cook the pork for about 3 hours.
Remove the dish from the oven, take out the pork and allow it to cool a little. Strain and reserve the stock. Wrap the pork in a couple of layers of clingfilm, and press under heavy weights overnight.
The day after, with a sharp knife, remove the top player of rubbery skin from the pork. It is now ready to roast.
Refrigerate until required and make the peas; in a medium saucepan, heat a splash of olive oil and a knob of butter. Add the garlic, shallots, leek and cook very gently until soft but not browned. Add the peas, raise the heat to medium, and stir until the peas are heated through, about 4 or 5 minutes.
Add a splash of white wine, and transfer the mixture to the bowl of a food processor.
Add a splash of the reserved pork stock and pulse quickly a few times until the mixture becomes a rough, coarse purée.
Transfer half of this mixture back to the saucepan.
Process the remaining half for a further 15-20 seconds, then add to the pan. Season, and add the parsley and tarragon.
Set aside until the pork is ready. To cook the pork heat the oven to 220°C / Gas 7. Cut the cold pork into long fat strips about 3cm wide, deeply score the fat, and roast until crisp and golden.
Rest the pork in a warm place until you’re ready to serve. As the pork is resting, cook the clams; heat a glass of white wine and a little of the reserved pork stock in a wide saucepan suitable to take the clams in a single layer. When the liquid is bubbling, tip in the clams and pop on the lid.
Simmer gently for 8-10 minutes, then remove the lid, and discard any unopened clams. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Carve the pork into thick slices.
To serve, spoon some smashed peas into the middle of a warmed bowl or plate, and place the clams and pork around.
Garnish with pea shoots or herbs, drizzle with oil, and serve immediately.