Cooking in the Cave: Shellfish—they’re our ancient saviors

There is a historical theory to explain the relative genetic similarities in most modern humans.

Historians theorize that at some point in our history, humanity dwindled down to perhaps a few hundred individuals living along the coast of South Africa.

And what sustained them when humanity was in its darkest hour? Shellfish.

That’s right. In all likelihood the savior of our species is the same thing now dipped in batter and unceremoniously fried.

Okay, so the shellfish themselves probably didn’t take a very active role in saving us, since being plucked from the rocks by a cave man isn’t exactly praiseworthy.

But nonetheless, we owe the bivalve a debt of gratitude.

And unlike most debts, that is a debt best paid by cooking and eating them, ideally while they are still alive.

I know it sounds harsh to cook these poor creatures while they still draw breath (in a mollusk sort of way), but it’s not so bad when the creatures in question have no nervous system and no brain.

Now how do you tell if something is alive or dead when it is merely a hollow sphere of calcified material with some goo inside?

Well, it’s simple.

If it’s open, you are dealing with a deceased mollusk and potentially some of the worst food poisoning imaginable.

I speak from experience—if a mussel is open before cooking or closed after it, don’t eat it. Period.

Yet I still eat shellfish, and not merely because of our historical association.

I eat them because they are delicious, particularly the noble clam.

The clam gets a bad rap. People think of them as tough, tasteless little things.

But a clam cooked correctly, just until the shell opens, is a mollusk truly worth eating.

However, even linguine and clams is not really about the meat inside the clam.

In fact, nothing with clams is about the meat inside the clam. It’s about the sauce.

It is about the pasta.

It is about the wonderful, astounding taste of the sea that each clam releases and how this taste coats every strand of that pasta.

Linguine and clams is about what this liquid elixir does to the pasta.

It is about the delicate and heady sauce that can come only from a divine mixture of clams and wine and spices and citrus.

Linguine and Clams

1/2 lb. dry linguine

Olive oil

1 1/2 lbs. clams

1 cup white wine

2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely minced

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 a yellow onion, chopped

Pinch of chile flakes

Handful of Italian parsley, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the pasta in salted water following instructions on package.

Saute the onions and garlic with a bit of olive oil in a wide, deep saucepan until soft and translucent.

Increase the heat to high; add the chile and cook for a moment until fragrant.

Add the white wine, and let it boil for a few seconds before you throw in the washed-off clams.

Cook for 3-4 minutes until most of the liquid has cooked down and most of the clams have opened.

Using tongs, transfer the linguine into the pan while still al dente, and cook the mixture until all clams are open. (Occasionally one will stubbornly refuse to open. If so, discard it.)

Add the parsley and lemon zest—along with a squeeze of lemon juice—and mix everything together.

Serve with grilled bread.


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