Clam Up!

Charles Elmer’s Spanish Clam dish makes for a perfect family meal.

Photography by Beau Gustafson

Charles Elmer's Spanish Clam dish

Spanish and South American dishes. He shares this treasured pasttime with wife Julie, also an attorney, and their children, Charles and Grace. Herer Charles shares a favorite clam dish. Like many Spanish clam dishes it has no name.

Charles’s Favorite Clam Dish

1 onion, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1.5 inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp chili powder
1.5 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2.5 lbs small clams in the shell
2 tbsp dry white wine
1 handful of celery leaves to garnish
1 loaf of fresh bread to serve


1. In a skillet or sauce pan, lightly sauté the onion, celery, garlic and ginger in olive oil with the chili powder and turmeric for about 5 minutes.

2. Add the chopped parsley, the wine and the clams.  Cover the pan and raise the heat to medium.  After letting the clams cook covered for about 5 minutes, pull out the ones that have opened and continue doing so until they have all opened.  Discard any that do not open.  Once the clams are all cooked, return them to the pan and mix well with the sauce.

3. Garnish generously with the celery leaves and serve with bread.

Cooking Tips:


1. When you buy clams, remember that they should still be alive. They are usually dead when their shells are slightly ajar and will not close when you tap them on the counter. Also, when they are dead, clams will not open when cooked.

2.  Before cooking clams, some people like to purge or feed them. This usually involves placing them in water that is salted heavily like sea water for several hours. Do not use anything other than heavily salted water. Fresh water will kill them.  Once the clams get settled in the salted water, they begin sifting, which purges or cleans them. If you want to fatten the clams up before cooking them, you can sprinkle some corn meal in the salted water, which they will eat. All of this said, the clams will taste just fine if you do not purge or feed them.

3. The recipe does not call for salt because it usually does not need it. The clams naturally have a certain amount of their own brine, which is released when they cook. If you wish, you can sprinkle a little salt or pepper on the dish after the clams have cooked.

4. This dish never quite turns out the same way twice, which makes it interesting. While the central flavors are celery, ginger and turmeric, you can modify the balance of spices and flavors to suit your taste. For example, if you want more spice, add more chili powder.

5. You can usually find clams at various grocery stores around Birmingham or order them. V. Richards, Whole Foods and the Crestline Piggly Wiggly usually have them available.

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