One of the nice things about living in the Pacific Northwest is the availability of live shellfish at the grocery stores.
Almost any time of the year we can find live oysters, clams, and mussels. The mussels come from mussel farms in Washington State’s Puget Sound, live oysters come from the many Oregon bays as well as from Washington and British Columbia, Canada. The Manila clams come from farms on the Washington coast or in Puget Sound.
One of my favorite childhood memories from living in Singapore was eating mussels stir-fried with a black bean sauce. It’s a traditional Cantonese way of cooking shellfish, whether they be mussels, clams, crab, or even sea snails.
Singapore is an island nation just south of Malaysia and Thailand. It’s a former British colony that thrives on trade and high-tech manufacturing.
We lived there for a couple of years in the early 1970s. Even then, Singapore was amazingly clean and congestion was unheard of. The fines for littering were pretty high — you never saw cigarette butts or chewing gum on the sidewalks. And to drive into downtown, you needed a special permit that was quite pricey. Most people took public transportation.
My stepfather worked for Bechtel at the time, an engineering company, and had to travel to a small island in Indonesia where his firm was constructing a dam. He was gone for two weeks and then home for a week. Whenever he came home he always took us out, and eating seafood was one of the things I looked forward to. The other was eating Indian and Malaysian food.
Singapore’s population is comprised of ethnic Chinese, Malaysians, Indians, and quite a few ex-patriot Brits. I remember the hour-long newscasts at the time being divided into 15-minute segments by language. So you knew when to tune in if you wanted your newscast in English, Hindi, Malaysian, or Chinese.
It was in this cultural mish-mash that I developed a love for shellfish…even sea snails like periwinkles.
Mussels and Clams in Black Bean and Garlic Sauce is very simple to prepare and quite tasty. Be sure to scrub the clams before cooking to rid them of any sand. A trick I learned from Charles to get clams to purge themselves of sand is to soak them in cold water with some salt dissolved in it, and sprinkle cornmeal into the water. Then pour ice into the water in the bowl to keep the water cold. The clams will eventually relax and open up, suck in some of the cornmeal and blow out the sand trapped in their shells, along with the cornmeal.
Mussels and Clams in Black Bean and Garlic Sauce
- 20 mussels, scrubbed clean
- 20 clams, scrubbed clean
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) fermented black beans
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) hoisin sauce
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) canola oil
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) light soy sauce
- 2-4 tablespoons (30-60 ml.) water
- Chopped cilantro for garnish
- Heat oil in a wok and brown garlic. Add the fermented black beans and sauté for a few minutes.
- Add soy sauce, hoisin, clams and mussels and stir. Add water and cover.
- After about 10 minutes, remove lid and stir the shellfish to make sure they’re evenly coated with the sauce and that all of the clams and mussels open. Push any unopened clams or mussels to the bottom of the wok so they get the most heat. Cover and cook another 10 minutes.
- Discard unopened shellfish, garnish with the chopped cilantro and serve with steamed white rice.