Monday, September 7, 2015

The Rain in Spain - I Did Them My Way Clam Cakes

Today is Labor Day, a rite of passage holiday always symbolic of new beginnings.  For us New Yorkers, the official end of summer and beginning of a new school year; for many of us, the start of a new job (I think I mentioned that I had started half the jobs of my life the day after Labor Day); for those of us who are Jewish, a reminder of the period of introspection that is represented by the Days of Awe and our upcoming New Year; for all us baby boomers, the requirement to sit respectfully and watch the entire Jerry Lewish Muscular Dystrophy Telethon; and for me personally the thirty-third anniversary of The Collapse of the Living Room Ceiling at my parent's house on Daniel Street, which occurred during, you guessed it, the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Why this sticks in my head - besides the mess, which was normally never tolerated in that sterile house - was that just as all the sheetrock came crashing down onto my mother's pristine orange carpet, the phone rang for me. It was one of my Lawrence High School classmates, a young man I'd been kind of sweet on, and I had to give him the bum's rush to get off the phone and help with the ceiling post-mortem. Knowing how I was back then, I probably gave him some flippant, disjointed, self-important explanation that failed to convey my delight at his call and my regret at having to cut him short.  Since I was leaving for my sophomore year at New Paltz the next day, I would not be able to easily receive or make a return call, and so we did not speak again. Ever. I told you I was my own worst enemy.  I'm pretty sure he did not attend our  high school's 20th reunion, and I did not attend the 25th, 30th, or 40th.  I'm not even sure there was a 30th, but if there was, I wasn't there. Ah youth!  Not only wasted on the young, but positively misspent and squandered.

While Al Gore and Mark Zuckerberg made it possible for me to reconnect with a great number of Lawrence graduates, he was unfortunately not one of them.  Wherever you are, Richard Nilsson, I hope you are well and enjoying a wonderful life. Sorry for being so abrupt with you on Labor Day 1971, but my social skills were pretty darn shaky back then. (They are a little better now, if you discount my tendency to live like a 21st century hermit.)

Sunday - Yesterday was Clam Fail 2.0, but I am determining to overcome the damn clam.  We shall overclam? Actually, I am beginning to wonder if this is all about the pan, rather than all about the clam.

I was preparing to publish a successful recipe, including photos of the GBD (golden brown and delicious) clam cakes when the unthinkable happened yet again.  While frying gently, the clam cake began to disintegrate, so that all the lovely potato-clam filling slid noisily into popping oil, leaving a crispy panko shell behind. I really could not figure out why, and it was late, so I covered the clam mixture and shoved it none too graciously in the refrigerator for an overnight rest.  

This morning, as I approached the refrigerator, it occurred to me that maybe this had nothing to do with the recipe, which should have worked, and everything to do about my used of a cast iron pan.  I admit to grasping at straws, but in any event, I pulled out a nice heavy nonstick skillet and started heating up more canola oil. I also decided not to try to coat the outside with crumbs or flour; the potato-clam mixture is fragile, even after a sleepover in the fridge, and I was hoping that the less I handled it, the more likely the success. 

Here's your ear worm, duckies - "The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain ... by George, she's got it!" Yep, I got it.

So - they held together just fine - the texture is beyond delicate; I wish I could have used the panko, but these little cakes could not have withstood the additional handling. As it is, I had to remove them from the frying pan after the initial browning so that they could be finished in the oven.  Timing is critical, both in the skillet and in the oven.  The flavor is absolutely wonderful, and I really consider these clam cakes to be a great success.  You taste each and every element.  If food could sing, this would be a perfect harmony.

There happens to be a recipe for an accompanying sauce in The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, but I keep vacillating as to whether I should prepare it. It's easy enough, and I have the ingredients at hand.  It may depend on which chicken recipe I decide to prepare, as I don't want to overly-replicate creamy textures and dairy-based sauces. 

Hello, my back is breaking. Breaking bad. Badly. I've decided on the chicken recipe - and it does eliminate the clam cake sauce from the menu - but I am going to have to wait before I do any more standing. The Creamy Chicken with Pine Nuts is, as they say, another day another blog post.

I Did Them My Way Clam Cakes

4-6.5 oz. cans minced clams, drained (keep the clam juice for another recipe; I froze mine)
4 large potatoes
1/2 cup cream
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons finely minced shallot
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
dash of cayenne pepper
2 extra large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
Canola oil for frying

Prepare mashed potatoes from the potatoes, cream and butter.  Use a hand masher, but do try to eliminate lumps.  Add in the clams and the remaining ingredients, up to and including the cayenne pepper.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Whisk the eggs until frothy, then stir them into the room temperature potato mixture until fully incorporated.  Add the flour, stir well, cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, heat the canola oil in a large non-stick skillet.  Using an ice cream scoop (the type with the lever to release the contents) carefully place three scoopfuls into the hot oil.  Let them cook, undisturbed until the bottom is lightly browned and crispy.  Now, very carefully turn over each clam cake and ever-so-gently press down with your spatula just barely enough to flatten the side against the pan.  Cook undisturbed until that side is also lightly browned and crispy.  Move each clam cake to an aluminum baking dish.  Repeat until all are done; you will have between 24 and 26 clam cakes.  Place the baking pans into a 350 degree oven for 15 to 30 minutes, until the clam cakes are hot inside.  Serve immediately.

Commercial accompaniments can include Kraft Horseradish Sauce, McCormick or Hellmann's Tartar Sauce, or McCormick's Cocktail Sauce. A couple of tomatoes from my garden wouldn't hurt either.

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