Sustainable, Cheap, Underrated: Clams

Linguine and clams, mapo tofu, and the glory of green papaya

It’s inevitable: Some days you haven’t planned anything to cook, the afternoon sneaks up on you, and all you can do is throw your hands up and say, “Gahhhh! What’s for dinner?” For those times when you need something fast, easy, and tasty, we’ve got you covered. We’ve got three super flavorful dishes here that decisively do not go together but will satisfy you for three different meals this week.

Steamed Clams With Pasta

Whether it’s the cacophonous word ‘clam’ or that you have to eat a pile to feel satisfied, clams are underrated. I’m on a mission to help change it — especially since they’re super affordable and as sustainable as you can get.

I’ve made Mark’s linguine in clams — steamed or sauteed — for as long as I can remember because it’s such a simple recipe and it’s one of my favorite dishes. Even though it’s delicious year-round, it truly reminds me of summer. When I was working in Long Island, Newsday ran a “where to go clamming” piece, and I love the idea of driving to that secret-ish seaside spot with a bucket, rake, and a plunger and getting some as fresh as possible. Usually, though, I’m happy enough to go to my local fishmonger to pick up four dozen for two of us. As Mark suggests, we focus on the clams more than the pasta (though the pasta is great, too).

I usually ask the fish guy when they’ve arrived and, because my shop gets them from the clammer every day, when they were harvested. At home, I’ll put them in a bowl layered with a wet paper towel until we’re ready to cook them that night. Then I’ll scrub them to rid them of sand. I’m a fan of the littlenecks, but middlenecks and cherrystones are great, too. I’ve been seeing more razor clams from Long Island but prefer small, sweet ones.

Where’s the pepper in this photo? I opted out since there’s plenty of red pepper flakes in there.

Makes: Two servings
Time: 30 minutes


  • 24 to 48 littleneck clams (the amount depends on the size and your budget, or luck; in any case, more is better), scrubbed

  • Salt (probably not much) and pepper to taste

  • 12 ounces long pasta, like spaghetti or linguine

  • ¼ cup olive oil, or more

  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

  • 2 cloves sliced garlic, or to taste

  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish


Steam the clams in a covered pot (a glass top is very nice, voyeuristically speaking). You don’t need any liquid other than what the clams will release. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.

After the clams open — it could take as little as 10 minutes — uncover and cool. Take the meat out and strain and reserve the liquid; make sure to leave any sand behind. Chop the clams if they’re big.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water. Put 1/4 cup olive oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the red pepper flakes and garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the clams and continue to cook, stirring, for about a minute. Add about 1/2 cup of the reserved clam liquid.

Drain the pasta when it’s nearly done and stir it into the clams. Cook, stirring, until the pasta is tender and the mixture is saucy. Add more clam-cooking liquid (or hot water or white wine), if necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding a little more oil if you like. Garnish, and serve.

Sauteed Clams With Pasta

Some call a watery mess made with canned chopped clams “spaghetti with clam sauce.” But this is the real thing — a quickly made, intensely flavored sauce that leaves you with a few delicious (and not overcooked) clams to eat before you get down to the business of the pasta. Wonderful and authentic.


  • 1 dozen littlenecks or other hard-shell clams, more or less, as small as you can find

  • ⅓ cup olive oil

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

  • 1 dried hot red pepper

  • ½ cup dry white wine

  • ½ cup minced fresh parsley

  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • ⅔ pound linguine or other long pasta


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Wash and scrub the clams well, then dry them. Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the crushed garlic and hot pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is lightly browned. Add the clams, one or two at a time, stir briefly, and cover. Put the pasta in boiling water and cook according to the package instructions.

Check the clams every minute or two; when the first one pops open (it will take just a few minutes), remove the cover and add the wine. Continue to cook over medium-high heat, shaking the pan occasionally. When most of the clams are open, add the parsley, minced garlic, and salt and pepper. Drain the pasta when done, put it in a warm bowl, and top with the clams and sauce. Serve the clams on the side of each plate.

Recipes from How To Cook Everything: Completely Revised Twentieth Anniversary Edition


Ma Po Tofu

You can eliminate the pork and stock in this dish to make it vegan. I prefer it without.

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: About 90 minutes


  • 4 cardamom pods

  • 8 small dried chiles (like Thai or de arbol), stems removed

  • 1 star anise

  • 2 bay leaves

  • One 1-inch cinnamon stick

  • 4 whole cloves

  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns

  • 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns

  • 1/4 cup cooked fava beans (or one 15-ounce can)

  • 2 tablespoons fermented black beans

  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, preferably unpasteurized

  • Salt

  • 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil

  • 1 pound boneless pork shoulder (a little fat is desirable) cut into 2-inch pieces

  • 3 tablespoons good-quality vegetable oil

  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger

  • 4 scallions, white and green parts, separated and chopped

  • 3 cups chicken stock or water

  • 2 tablespoons corn starch

  • 2 pounds firm tofu, chopped

  • 1 fresh red chile, seeded if you like, and sliced

  • 1 cup tender fresh cilantro sprigs


1. Split the cardamon on a cutting board with the flat side of a knife, remove the seeds and discard the husks. Put a dry medium skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the chiles and toast, shaking the pan frequently until they brown in spots, just a minute or 2. Remove the pot from the heat and add the cardamom seeds, the star anise, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cloves, black peppercorns, and Sichuan peppercorns; stir until warmed. Transfer the mixture to a clean spice or coffee grinder and process until pulverized.

2. Mash the fava and black beans in a small bowl with vinegar and a large pinch of salt. Add the spice blend and sesame oil, mashing and stirring to form a rough paste. Pulse the pork in a food processor until chopped but not fully ground; you want some texture.

3. Put the vegetable oil in the large pot over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the pork, sprinkle lightly with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s no longer pink and begins to brown, 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Lower the heat to medium, add the garlic, ginger, and scallion whites, and stir. Add the chile-bean paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the pork is coated, sizzling, and fragrant, just a minute or 2. Stir in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, so the mixture bubbles gently but steadily, cover, and cook, stirring now and then until the pork is crumbly and the liquid thickens a little, 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Transfer 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid to a small bowl and whisk in the cornstarch to make a smooth slurry. Stir the mixture back into the pot. Adjust the heat to maintain a steady gentle bubble and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens, 2 or 3 minutes. Add the tofu and stir until heated through, 2 or 3 minutes more. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve right away, garnished with scallion greens, fresh chile slices, and cilantro.

Recipe from Dinner for Everyone


Green Papaya Salad

I love a salad with big flavor for lunch. This one does the trick.

Makes: 2 servings
Time: 30 minutes


  • 1 green, unripe papaya, peeled and seeded

  • 2 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed

  • 1 shallot, chopped

  • 2 fresh chiles, preferably Thai, seeded and chopped

  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce or soy sauce

  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

  • 2 teaspoons sugar

  • 6 ounces long beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

  • 1 small tomato, cored and cut into eighths

  • 2 tablespoons chopped dry or roasted peanuts

  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro for garnish


1.Use a knife or the julienne disk of a food processor to cut the papaya into fine shreds.

2.Combine the garlic, shallot, and chiles on a cutting board and mince and press with the side of the knife until pasty. Or, as is traditional, use a mortar and pestle. Combine in a bowl with the papaya, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, beans, and tomato, and stir until combined.

3. Taste and adjust the seasoning; the mixture will be hot but may need more fish sauce, lime juice, and or sugar. Garnish with peanuts and cilantro and serve.

Recipe from How To Cook Everything: Completely Revised Twentieth Anniversary Edition