Sometimes you come across a meal that just seems to difficult to make a home. It is usually a dish that is at once elegant and a little exotic. It seems like to much trouble, so it is best to leave it to the chefs at the restaurants to make it for you. Perhaps your instincts are confirmed when the menu says “Linguini con Cozze e Vongole”. Just the name reminds you how exotic the dish is, and not to be tried at home. But the reality is quite different. Linguine with Mussels and Clams is remarkably easy to make, delicious, and just as elegant as you imagine!
Clams and Mussels are remarkably popular in Mediterranean cuisine. Of course, that comes from being basically a costal cuisine that emphasize local ingredients. Although I live along the coast in the US, I find more of a reluctance too cook shellfish at home around here. I suppose that part of the problem is a some people find the idea of cooking shellfish at home a bit intimidating. But I promise you, it needn’t be. In fact, it is remarkably easy – the shellfish even tell you when they are done. Not only that, the entire meal can be made in the time it takes a pot of water to boil and the linguine to cook. Delicious, elegant dinner in 30 minutes?! Perfect! After you try it, you’ll wonder After you try it, you’ll wonder what intimidated you.
Like cooking shellfish, picking them is easier than you think too. The number one tip to picking shellfish is to deal with a reputable fish merchant. The best fish mongers (the term for a fish seller) are masters at selecting and handling seafood. They will be in the best position provide you the freshest and best shellfish available. They won’t source clams or mussels from beds closed for health reasons. A good fish monger will be able to tell you where your shellfish come from and how fresh they are.
It used to be that you could only get fresh clams if you lived near a coast. But with modern shipping and air freight, you can find fresh seafood even deep inland (albeit for higher prices). Quality fish markets are can be found in most parts of the country. Even some premium supermarket chains are offering good fish monger services now. Finding shellfish for your Linguine with Mussels and Clams shouldn’t be very difficult.
One Key Tip to Get from your Fishmonger
Once you’ve found your fishmonger, picking good shellfish should be easy. Once your picked your fish, be sure ask a basic, but important questions. Ask your fish monger the best way to store the fish between when you get it home, and when you cook it. Many times, how the fish is handled during this time is important to the outcome of the final dish. Like lobsters, shellfish are only safe to eat if they are cooked from the live state. A clam or mussel that is dead when you cook it will never open up, so you will know it is no good. Handle to shellfish right once you’ve bought it, and you reduce the chance this happens.
For example, one time I bought some clams for a dish. When I got home I got distracted and left them on the counter. When I returned to them, I thought nothing of it, cooked them like ‘normal’ and not a single one opened up. It turns out my bad handling had caused them all die sitting on the counter. The entire dinner was gone.
How many Clams and Mussels?
As for how much shellfish to get, that is a different question. I see many recipes that express the amounts in pounds or grams. While that is an good method for most foods, I find it a bit lacking for shellfish. To start with, clams vary widely in size and shape. And of course there is the weight of the shells themselves. They make up the majority of the weight of any clam or mussel. The meat inside is a much smaller percent of the overall weight.
When I make Linguine with Mussels and Clams, I find a better measure is number of shellfish per person instead of weight. As a general rule, I recommend about 12 pieces per person. When having a mix of clams and mussels, that is about 6 of each per person. A good fishmonger will sell you clams and mussels by the individual count which will make it easy to get just what you need. I always get a few extra, because no matter how well you handle your shellfish, you may end up with a couple that don’t open. The extras will cover for that. And if they all open, well, who will complain about an extra clam or mussel or two?!
Prepare the Clams and Mussels
Before you start dinner, take some time to ‘prepare’ the clams and mussels. Mussels and clams are mostly similar to prepare. There will be small differences based on if they are wild caught or farm raised.
To start with, you want to get rid of any clams or mussels that are already dead. Get rid of any cracked or damaged of either. They are probably already dead. Next, look for clams or mussels that are opened. Gently tap them on the counter one or two times. If they close, good. If not, discard them. They are dead.
Clean the mussels and clams by soaking them for 20 minutes to half an hour. Fill a bowl with cool water, add a tablespoon of salt, then add your mussels and clams. This soaking process draws out any sand inside the clams or mussels. That’s a good thing because you don’t really want their grit ruining your meal. Farm raised clams and mussels are generally less gritty inside. This is because of how they are raised and harvested. Wild can be grittier and the difference may affect how long you soak them for. Wild caught will need a longer soak time, closer to an hour.
Sometimes with mussels, you have to scrub and “de-beard” them. The beard is small fibrous threads secreted by the mussel to help it hold onto the rock it was living on. The technical name is the “byssus” if it matters. In any case, they are not good to eat and need to be removed. Farm raised mussels generally have the beard removed during processing. Some wild raised do as well, but you may still find mussels with beards. Use a small paring knife to trim them away. Here is a quick video to show how to do that.
Make you Linguine con Cosse e Volngole
Now comes the super easy part — putting it all together in a dinner and making your Linguine with Mussels and Clams. This part will take the time it takes for a pot of water to boil and the pasta to cook. So — less than 30 minutes.
Start by filling a large pot with water to cook your linguine. Add a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt an turn the heat up high. (If you’re feeling really brave, you could make this with homemade pasta. If you do, the cooking time for the pasta is shorter, so adjust your cooking accordingly)
While the water is heating, start chop your garlic, onion, and parsley. Choose a large saute pan or skillet that will hold all the clams, mussels, and linguine. You will also need a snug fitting lid to cover the cooking clams and mussels. Heat the pan over medium high heat, and wait for the pasta water to boil.
When the water in the pot comes to a boil, add the linguine and cook according to package directions. You want to cook the linguine until just shy of al dente. You’ll want the pasta to still be a little firm when you bite it. The pasta will finish in the sauce with the clams for the final minute or two of before serving. (The pasta should still be firm to the bite since it will cook another minute or two in the sauce).
Once you add the pasta to the boiling water, heat heat the olive oil in the skillet until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and onions until just softening and turning golden, about 30 seconds.
Add the Clams and Mussels
The mussels and clams directly to the saute pan with the garlic and onions. Add the wine, a teaspoon kosher salt, and about half of your parsley. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover to let the clams and mussels cook.
Keep the lid on the pan so that the clams and mussels cook. It will take about six to eight minutes, but they should all open up. As they open, the will release the water they were holding onto inside – called ‘liquor’. This is an important part of the sauce.
Uncover the pan, and pull out any mussels or clams that didn’t open. They are not safe to eat, and need to be discarded.
Using a glass measuring cup, pull of about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and set aside. Then drain the linguine in a colander, but don’t rinse it (it will cool it down too much). Add the pasta to the sauté pan with the clams and mussels. Also add about half of the reserved pasta water. Toss it all together.
If necessary, increase the heat so the liquids in the pan simmer. Tossing occasionally to fully coat the pasta with the sauce you are creating. Some of the liquid will be absorbed into the pasta to finish the cooking process. The rest of the sauce will thicken slightly and coat the linguine. This should take just two to three minutes. If you think it is cooking too fast and drying out, add some more of the reserved pasta water.
Your just about finished with your Linguine with Mussels and Clams. Remove the pan from the heat. Add another swirl of extra virgin olive oil (or a tablespoon of butter) to finish the sauce. Give the sauce a quick taste, and add some kosher salt or fresh ground black pepper to taste. If you’d like, you can also add some lemon juice at this point, but I usually don’t.
Divide the pasta, clams and mussels among your plates. Try to get an even number of each of the shellfish on each plate. Top with the remaining parsley for garnish, and there you have it!
Super easy. Super delicious. Really quick and as fresh as it comes. So next time you think Linguini con Cozze e Vongole is to hard or too elegant to make at home, forget that thought. Go ahead and make Linguine with Mussels and Clams yourself!
Linguine with Mussels and Clams
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound linguine
- 3 TBS extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
- 1/2 cup red onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic coarsely chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio)
- Littleneck clams – about 6 per person soaked and cleaned
- Mussels – about 6 per person soaked and cleaned
- 3 TBS fresh flat-leaf parsley finely chopped, plus more for garnish
- 2 TBS unsalted butter
- In large pot over high heat, bring 4 quarts of water and 3 tablespoons of kosher salt to a boil
- Add the linguine and cook according to the package directions until just shy of al dente
- While water is heating/pasta is cooking, heat a very large sauté pan over medium-high heat
- Add the olive oil until hot but not smoking.
- Add the garlic and onions and sauté until just golden, about 30 seconds.
- Add mussels and clams directly to the pan with the garlic and onions
- Immediately add the wine, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, andparsley;
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover.
- Cook, covered, until the clams open, 6 to 8 minutes. Discard any unopened mussels or clams.
- Using a glass measureing cup, take for the pasta pot a 1/2 cup of the cooking water and set aside
- Drain the linguine using a colander
- Add the pasta to the sauté pan with the clams along with about half of the reserved pasta water
- If necessary, increase the heat so the liquids in the pan simmer.
- Toss the pasta and shellfish to fully coat the pasta with the sauce you are creating.
- Some of the liquid will be absorbed into the pasta to finish the cooking process.
- The rest of the sauce will thicken slightly and coat the linguine, about two to three minutes.
- If you think it is cooking too fast and drying out, add some more of the reserved pasta water.
- Remove the pan from the heat.
- Add another swirl of extra virgin olive oil (or a tablespoon of butter) to finish the sauce.
- Give the sauce a quick taste, and add some kosher salt or fresh ground black pepper to taste.
- If you’d like, you can also add some lemon juice at this point.
- Divide the pasta, clams and mussels among your plates.
- Top with the remaining parsley for garnish and serve