Grilled Clams and Mussels in the Bag

Hopefully it’s the shellfish in the bag, not the cook – particularly as this is one of our favorite boat recipes.  Usually, it all starts with the dough-making and baking of a couple of loaves of ciabatta, the perfect accompaniment to the shellfish both in taste and its ability to mop up the delicious juices.  So, if we’re aiming to eat as the sun goes down, the galley will be filled with the wonderful smells of baking for much of the late afternoon.  That, in turn, inspires a cocktail or two, on which depends the definition of ‘in the bag’ and who or what is in it …

You’ll need:

4 pounds small clams, rinsed & scrubbed (or a combination of 2 pounds of clams and 2 pounds of mussels)
3 ripe heirloom tomatoes, cut into chunks or 18 cherry tomatoes, halved
Sea salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
3/4 cup dry white wine
¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

Preheat the gas grill.

Cut four 12-inch squares of heavy-duty foil.  It’s important to use heavy-duty foil because the lighter weight sometimes punctures and all the juices run out onto the barbecue coals when you want them to end up in the bread …

Lay out the squares and fold up the edges of each one to form a shallow bowl.  Evenly distribute the clams and tomatoes between each square. Sprinkle the tomatoes with sea salt. Combine the oil, garlic, pepper flakes, wine and parsley together and pour over each packet of clams.  Bring the four corners of each foil packet up over the clams and twist the top together securely, creating a tight seal.

Place the packets on the hottest part of the grill and cook until the clams open, approximately 8-10 minutes. Discard any clams that don’t open.  Put each packet in individual bowls and serve still enclosed in the foil so each guest can open their own packet before emptying into the bowls.

It’s great fun to have all your guests open the packets at the same time.

The aromas released by the opening packets is divine, especially if your senses have been primed by the earlier baking.  With the bread, this is a meal in itself but you can always serve it with a great salad.

Cut a loaf of rustic bread (Ciabatta is our favorite) into ½-inch slices.  Place the slices on a grill and cook until golden, turning once.  Remove from the grill and rub lightly with a garlic clove and a tomato cut in half.  Sprinkle with sea salt and serve.

John’s Wine Selection:
I like a Chardonnay for this dish-something buttery that will match the olive oil, dry enough to complement the fresh ciabatta, but strong enough to stand up to the pepper and the sharper tastes.  When we tested this dish and the wine selection for the book, we chose a 2007 from Melanson Vineyard, Stone’s Throw, which is in Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley.