Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Little Necks the Slanted Door Way

The Slanted Door at the Ferry Building in San Francisco is one of my favorite restaurants. The food is basically Vietnamese, but it's nothing like anything served in Stockton. It is Gourmet and unambiguously wonderful. When the server told us the clams were a special that day there was no hesitation. They were served as an appetizer in an earthenware bowl, with steaming broth that packed a flavor punch. Spicy, citrusy, basily, garlicky, you get it. When the bus persons came by, trying to take the bowl away, I threatened them with cement shoes. Instead I asked for big spoons so we (by that I mean I) could spoon the delicious broth and not waste a bit. I asked our server if I could get the ingredient list, lest I die. Later she brought me the list, scribbled on a scrap of paper.

My first task was to find roasted chili paste. On my second Asian grocery store stop I found roasted chili paste with shrimp powder. I was dubious but bought it anyway, you know, just in case. On my third stop I found straight chili paste. My Eureka experience was at the New Cambodia Market at 4753 N. Pershing Ave. in Stockton. It's in a strip mall on the nw corner of Pershing and March Lane, facing the Pershing side. It's kind of a cool little market and if you live near there it's definitely worth a try if you're looking for an obscure Asian ingredient.

When we ate our clams I tasted a definite citrus flavor; so even though lemongrass wasn't on the paper scrap, I used it anyway. The basil is cut in a chiffonade, which just means stacking a few leaves, rolling them up and slicing them into ribbons.

In my last article on clams I forget to tell you how I get them ready to cook. Put the live clams in a bowl of cold salted water (I add ice) and let them soak 30 minutes. Drain and rinse and repeat. This is supposed to make them spit out the sand in their shells.

It took me two tries to get this right. The first time I used one whole teaspoon of roasted chili paste. Paul and I were breathing fire but it was good so we ate it anyway. For the second try Paul begged me to use just 1/4 teaspoon and he was right. Maybe a little too hot for Goldilocks but for us it was about right. The flavors were good and we ate every bit. It came very close to what we experienced that day so I'm ready to call it good. For now.

Little Necks A La Slanted Door

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, mashed and minced
1/3 or more jalapeño, seeds removed, minced
1 quart chicken broth
4 stalks lemongrass
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 teaspoon roasted chili paste
2 tablespoons ginger, coarsely chopped
1 slice bacon sliced crosswise 1/4" thick
1 1/2 pounds little neck clams
1 tablespoon basil, chiffonade

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the shallot and jalapeño and sweat until tender and aromatic, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds to release its aroma. Pour chicken broth into saucepan and heat over medium setting.

Start adding next four ingredients to the broth. Cut the lemongrass into approximately 2 inch pieces and mash to release flavor by whacking them with the flat side of a chef's knife. Add the fish sauce, chili paste and ginger; simmer gently with lid on for about half an hour to infuse the broth with all the flavors. Turn off the heat and let sit while you cook the bacon until nice and brown. Roll bacon strips up in a paper towel to soak up fat and set aside.

Strain broth into a large measuring cup and pour back into saucepan. Keep warm over medium low heat.

Cook the clams: ladle a quarter cup or so broth into a saute pan and heat up over medium high heat. Add the clams and cover with a lid. Remove the clams as they pop open (a glass lid really makes it easy) and divide them into two serving bowls. When all clams are cooked, top with bacon and basil chiffonade and then the rest of the hot broth. Eat and enjoy.

One last thing, I have switched fish sauce brands to Tiparos. It has half the sodium of the brand I was using. And that's a good thing.


  1. I don't usually comment, but I LOVE reading your blog. Thanks for the heads up on Slanted Door, and thanks for getting the ingredients from the chef. Very bold and resourceful of you! It sounds delicious! Can't wait to try it. I've never cooked clams before (kind of intimidated), but your extra tips on preparing the clams give me the confidence I need to take the plunge!!

  2. Thanks Sue, I really appreciate getting comments. Let me know after you take the clam cooking plunge. It's not hard and the rewards are delicious.