Sweet corn and briny clams could be the most classic of American pairings. Hundreds of years before Europeans arrived on New England shores, Native Americans created the clambake by digging pits in the sand to steam them with lobster. Add water and cream to the mix, and chowder would follow soon after.
To honor this summertime tradition at Milk Street, we pair the two in a chowder, of sorts, that you can eat with your hands. Or maybe it’s a brothy clambake. Either way, the recipe from our book “COOKish,” which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor, elevates the combination with the substitution of two flavor-packed ingredients.
First, rather than the typical potatoes, we opt for fresh fennel bulb, which adds notes of anise as well as contrasting texture. And second, we finish with a small measure of crème fraîche (or whole-milk yogurt) instead of cream. The tanginess pairs beautifully with the briny-sweet liquid released by the clams to become a subtly creamy broth that’s as delicious as the clams themselves.
If you can, use corn kernels cut from freshly shucked ears (you’ll need two good-size ears to get the 2 cups kernels called for in the recipe), but frozen corn works in the off-season. Serve with oyster crackers, or with crusty bread for mopping up the broth.
STEAMED CLAMS WITH CORN, FENNEL AND CREME FRAICHE
Start to finish: 30 minutes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium fennel bulb, halved, cored and thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 cups corn kernels
2 pounds hard-shell clams (about 1½ inches diameter), such as littleneck or Manila, scrubbed
¼ cup crème fraîche OR plain whole-milk yogurt
In a Dutch oven, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the fennel, onion, fennel seeds and a pinch of salt, then cook, stirring, until the vegetables are lightly browned. Stir in the corn and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and add the clams. Cover and cook over medium, stirring once or twice, until the clams have opened. Stir once more, then remove and discard any clams that haven’t opened. Off heat, stir in the crème fraîche and ½ teaspoon pepper. Season with salt.
Optional garnish: Hot sauce OR chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley OR lemon wedges OR a combination
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap