This July we had the pleasure of dining at Blackfish in Truro, Cape Cod. As we sat waiting for a table to open up at this hidden, farm to table gem of a restaurant, we ate steamed littleneck clams in a bacon infused cream broth. They were the divine nectar of the gods.
This imagined adaptation of Littleneck Clams in Bacon Infused Broth is my best attempt at channeling that dining experience into our own weekend table. While I did not surpass the chef at Blackfish, I certainly tried. Many guests last night gave rave reviews, referencing the word “food orgasm” in their descriptions of how this tasted. Those of us who had dined at Blackfish remarked that it was a very good attempt, although admittedly I did not nail it exactly.
But I suppose its really not my fault I couldn’t achieve 100% accuracy. That evening in July we had queried about the recipe. The waitress, playing telephone between us and the chef, had tried to explain to us that it was a “quick chowder” preparation. Whatever that was. Bacon infused cream was poured into fish stock. Was there white wine or sherry, we asked? Well, of course, every fish stock has that…we could taste thyme perhaps? or was that parsley? The dinner menu did in fact reference thyme, but I suppose there were probably both. Suffice it to say, we did not walk away with the recipe, only a few opaque clues.
My first round of experimentation went disasterously wrong. Not enough wine in the fish stock (too fishy!), and I had sizzled the bacon until browned and then mistakenly added the cream and fish stock at the same time before steaming the clams. I ended up with clams that wouldn’t open because they were submerged in too much liquid. And while I was attempting to cook the clams, the cream boiled and, of course, curdled. The clams were inedible and looked the part.
I did not give up.
A little googling led us to realize that bacon infusion required cooking the bacon and then adding it to cream and letting it sit in the cream over night in the refrigerator. I also found a better fish stock recipe in the Food and Wine 2013 cookbook that called for a whole bottle of white wine, leeks, shallot, fennel and shallots. That made a difference.
Instead of adding the cream while the clams cooked, I cooked them in the fish stock only and waited until they were opened before adding the cream. As the clams cooked, I heated the bacon infused cream on low heat (so as to warm, but not to boil it) and then added the cream in at the last minute before serving. It actually worked!
Now I have to say a few things about this recipe. It is not the easiest that I have featured on this blog. And it requires getting fish heads and bones from your local fish store and cutting them up at home — a task that will gross even the most adventurous home cooks out. Although once you make the stock, you can freeze 3/4 of it to use the next time around. The stock makes about 8 cups or more of stock, but you only need about 2 cups to steam the clams. I suppose you could also buy fish stock from your fish store and make this a relatively easy preparation.
The bacon infusion is actually fairly simple. Just saute bacon bits until browned and then add it to 2 cups of cream to the bacon and refrigerate overnight. You need to let it infuse for at least 8 hours with 12-24 being optimal.
Two tweaks I would make next time around. I would add thyme in addition to parsley in the fish broth. I simply forgot to buy it at the store yesterday. And I would splash in just a bit of sherry at the same time that I added the cream.
A final word of advice. Sour dough bread was served at Blackfish and I recommend you find the very best sour dough bread you can afford and serve it along with these shellfish. That sauce is too good not to mop up!
- 3 slices of center cut bacon
- 2 cups whipping cream
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 fennel bulb, finely chopped
- 1 leek, finely chopped
- 2 pounds fish head and bones (cut into 2 inch pieces)
- 1 bottle (750 ml) of dry white wine
- 8 cups of water
- 1 bunch of parsley stems
- 8 sprigs of thyme
- Salt to taste
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 24 littleneck clams
- splash of sherry
- Saute center cut bacon in frying ban until browned and crispy, approximately 12-15 minutes.
- Transfer with a slotted spoon to cream and refrigerate overnight.
- Heat olive oil on medium high heat.
- Add onion, shallot, fennel, leek and fish heads and bones and saute for about 15 minutes until vegetables are softened.
- Add wine and bring to boil. Simmer for 20 minutes until wine is reduced by half.
- Add 8 cups of water and parsley and thyme. Bring back to a boil and simmer for 30 more minutes.
- Strain through fine colander. Salt to taste.
- If not using immediately, refrigerate or freeze fish stock (Will last up to 2 months in freezer).
- In a dutch oven, saute garlic until lightly browned. Add 2 cups of fish stock and bring to a boil. Add littleneck clams and cook for approximately 8 minutes, stirring occasionally until clams open. Discard any clams that have not opened.
- Add bacon infused cream and a splash of sherry. Serve immediately.