Open and shut case: Skye Gyngell cooks with clams

It’s simple enough to detect whether clams are good to eat – and even easier to prepare them, whether you’re adding a jolt of sherry, a chorizo kick or a chilli zing

Sweet and salty, really fresh clams are quite delicious. A member of the bivalve family, like mussels and scallops, their home is generally the bottom of the ocean, nestled among the sediment. This is why they must be rinsed well under cool running water to remove any sand. It is also important to remember when cooking with clams that you must discard any shells that are open; likewise, when cooked, any that have not opened. The pretty little clams pictured above, known as palourde, are my favourites – although they are tiny, they impart a surprisingly big flavour.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627,

Clams with peas and fino sherry

Fino is a dry sherry that works well with clams; it likes chilli, for it gives it a warm kick, and marjoram and garlic enhances its flavour even more.

Serves 4

800g/1¾lb very fresh clams
300g/10oz fresh peas
1 small bunch of marjoram
1 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 dried red chilli
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
300ml/pint fino sherry
100ml/3 fl oz dry white wine
1 medium-sized bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, roughly chopped
50g/2oz unsalted butter
A little salt and some freshly ground black pepper

Start by rinsing the clams under cool running water, then set aside while you cook the peas.

Pour the peas into a heavy-based saucepan and add a good pinch of salt, a little marjoram and just enough water to cover. Place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, by which time the peas should be really soft and a pale olive-green in colour. Drain.

Place a separate saucepan, large enough to add all the ingredients, over a fairly low heat and, when the base is warm, add the olive oil and onion. Turn down the heat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time before adding the rest of the marjoram, the chilli and the garlic, along with a pinch of salt. Continue to cook for a further 15 minutes over a low heat. Now add the clams, the fino and wine, and place a firm-fitting lid on top. Turn the heat to high and cook the clams until they ease open – shake the pan from time to time to help them along.

Once all the clams are open (discard any that have not), add the peas, parsley and butter. Taste, and add a little salt or pepper if you think it needs it, and serve in warm bowls with bruschetta or warm, peasant-style bread.

Chorizo and clams

Sometimes combinations that at first may seem a little strange actually work together incredibly well. One example is clams and chorizo. This heavily paprika-laden spicy sausage from Spain is delicious with the salty yet clean flavour of the clams.

Serves 6

12 chorizo sausages
A generous glug of olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 dried red chilli, crumbled
2 cloves of garlic
1kg/2lb clams
300ml/pint dry white wine
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, roughly chopped.
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the clams under cold running water until any grit or dirt is removed.

Slice the chorizo sausages in half lengthwise, and place under the grill. Cook for 5 minutes on one side before turning and grilling for 3 minutes on the under-side. Turn off the grill and allow to sit in the oven to keep warm while you cook the clams.

Place a large, heavy-based saucepan on top of the stove. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil, onion, chilli and garlic. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the onions are soft and translucent – this will take 10 minutes or so.

Once the onions are soft, throw in the clams and pour over the white wine. Place a lid firmly on top and cook, shaking the pan from time to time to help the clams open their shells. Once all the clams are open, turn off the heat and add the flat-leaf parsley. Stir to combine.

Remove the chorizo from the oven, arrange on warm plates or one large serving plate and spoon the clams over the top. Serve with bruschetta or a warm, crusty, peasant-style bread, which is essential to mop up all the lovely juices.

Clams and linguine

The best pasta to use for this dish is dried pasta made from durum wheat. Fresh pasta is not strong enough to take the robustness of the clams.

Serves 6

600g/1¼lb clams
1 packet of dried linguine
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 diced fresh red chilli, seeds removed
300ml/pint dry white wine
A fairly generous bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
The zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the clams under cold running water until any grit or dirt is removed. Place a big pot of generously salted water on to boil; once the water has boiled, add the linguine, ensuring that all the pasta is properly under water. Cook following the manufacturer's instructions.

While the pasta is cooking, place a second heavy-based pan over a high heat and, once hot, add two tablespoons of the olive oil. Now add the clams, garlic, chilli and wine and place a secure lid on the pan. Cook until the clams are open, shaking the saucepan from time.

Once the pasta has cooked, drain and add to the clams, along with the lemon zest, parsley and the rest of the olive oil. Toss so that the pasta is well coated and serve while still really hot.