Confessions of a clam killer


“No, don’t die!” I found myself yelling at the bowl in my sink.

I had just covered about 3 dozen steamer clams with water, and when I added a small bit of salt and cornmeal, which I’d been told would help them spit their grit, a sort of gurgle came from the water. When I looked down, one of the clams had thrust out its tongue.

Though I’d known, intellectually, when I bought them the day before that the clams were, in fact, alive, it was the first proof I’d had. And all of my anxiety about caring for a living creature for 48 hours, only so that I could eat it, rose to the surface like sea foam.

I suppose this is nothing unusual if you’re a hearty New Englander, used to cooking steamers in your Rhode Island beach cottage or attending giant lobster boils like the one in Maine immortalized by David Foster Wallace. There are plenty of places in this country where you can still see your food at least whole, if not alive. I’m thinking eastern Carolina pig pickings and Mississippi’s famous annual goat roast.

And of course, there are people who learn whole animal butchering or who hunt with a cross bow to get in touch with their meat. I’m not that guy. Years ago my family and I decided to spend the extra money required to eat only morally raised meat and sustainably caught seafood. But confronting my dinner personally was never really on my agenda.

I had my first live lobster experience this summer. Not by choice, but because the steamer at the fish shop was busy. So I hauled home my crustaceans and grimly began boiling big pots of water. My husband left the kitchen. “I can’t watch this,” he said. When the water came to a boil, I picked up the first lobster with big tongs, then spoke to it. “Thank you, Mr. Lobster,” I said. “I promise to honor your sacrifice.” Then I plunged him head first into the roiling pot. And took a long pull on my G&T.

I’m not ready to kill my own calf or strangle my own chicken. But I do believe that a meal means more, becomes a more human act, when you feel the presence in your gut of what the meat gave for your pleasure.

Makes 4 servings

AFR Tested

Grilled Clams and Chorizo

This dish mixes spicy sausage and briny clams in a thick, delicious broth. The equivalent of a Latin clambake, it's a great use of the grill. This recipe is adapted from “Latin Grilling” by Lourdes Castro (Ten Speed Press, 2011.)


  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 ½ cups white wine
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 shallots, sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ pounds fresh chorizo (not dried)
  • 36 small clams in the shell, scrubbed

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 baguette, halved lengthwise
  • ¼ cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 3 lemons, cut into wedges


First, soak the clams in cold, salted water for one hour to let them expel any sand.

Heat the grill to medium high. Close the lid and allow to pre-heat for 15 minutes. Oil the grates with a vegetable oil-soaked paper towel held with a long pair of tongs.

Place the butter, white wine, garlic, shallots, tomatoes, paprika, salt and pepper into a roasting pan. Set the pan on the grill. Stir occasionally.

Place the chorizo on the other side of the grill, close the lid and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it is a deep golden brown. Turn the sausage over and grill for another 4 to 5 minutes, until the skin is charred and shriveled.

Remove the chorizo from the grill and slice it into thin rounds. Place them in the roasting pan with the sauce and stir to combine.

Increase the grill heat to high and leave the lid open. Placec the clams directly on the grill grate and cook until they pop open, about 3 to 6 minutes. Use tongs to transfer the clams to the pan as soon as they open. Discard any clams that remain shut after 8 or 9 minutes.

Toss the clams, chorizo and sauce together and set aside.

Brush the cut side of the bread with olive oil and place it cut side down on the grill. Allow to toast for a few minutes until slightly charred. Remove and cut into chunks.

Garnish the clams and chorizo with parsley and serve with the bread and lemon wedges.

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2 Responses to Confessions of a clam killer

  1. Gerardo September 29, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    I like the recipe, but don’t understand the decision to grill the clams open. My experience with clams is that they yield a delicious broth when steamed. I would personally put them closed in the pan, close the lid of the grill (gas or charcoal), wait 10 mins or so — depending on how hot it is — and let them open there.

    Many thanks for the recipe.

    • Profile photo of Michele Kayal
      Michele Kayal September 29, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

      Gerardo, I actually agree with you. I was thinking that when I made the recipe again a couple of weeks ago. Let us know how it turns out and we’ll make the change!