We decided to spend a few days around New Year’s out at my parents’ cabin on Hood Canal. All of us had been craving oysters and clams, but the low tides were all after the sun went down. So one night the hubs, my dad and I donned our headlights, grabbed our lantern and headed down to the beach around 7:00 p.m. It was so dark, dark like in horror movies. There was no moon, but also no wind and no rain which meant that going down in a fleece and tennis shoes was OK.
Dad walking through the oyster shells
For those of you who have not done night oystering and clamming, it is fun! It’s hard to see what you’re looking for, and it sometimes feels a little creepy that a creature could potentially attack you long before you saw it, but it was still fun.
We brought up 3 limits of oysters and 120 clams (minus a few that turned out to be rocks). We decided to pull out the smoker the next day and smoke them up. My dad and I both have a Little Chief Smoker and it comes with a recipe booklet by SmokeHouse Products that can be downloaded online.
We used the Easy Cure brine, which is 1 quart of cold water with 0.5 cup non-iodized salt and 0.5 cup of white sugar (though I’m pretty sure you could also use brown sugar, which we intend to try next time).
How to smoke oysters
1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Fill it up only halfway with water (this stuff is GROSS if it boils over).
2. Shuck all the oysters and rinse them in cold water to remove any shell remnants.
3. Blanch the oysters a few at a time in the boiling water for 2 minutes. You basically are starting to cook them and want the edges to be curling. If you add too many to the pot at one time and the water cools down too much, leave them in for longer. I think I usually blanch 6-7 at a time. Put them into an ice-water bath when done to stop the cooking process.
4. Put the oysters into the brine and refrigerate for 40-50 minutes. Use a glass or stainless steel bowl– do not use plastic.
5. After they have brined, rinse the oysters in slightly warm water and put them on a baking sheet covered with a layer or two of paper towels. Make sure they aren’t touching. Leave them out at room temperature for about 30-40 minutes (this is the “curing” stage).
6. Most smokers have racks that are too big to allow for oysters and clams to be smoked, so we covered our wire racks with foil and poked holes in the foil to allow the smoke to come through.
7. Smaller oysters are ideal for smoking; if you have really big ones, cut them into halves or even thirds. Try to make your oysters relatively uniform in size.
Oysters and clams curing before going into the smoker
8. Smoke for 3-4 hours using alder chips. We used 3 pans of alder chips, changing out the pan every hour, but we could have done it with just 2. I would avoid using heavier scents like hickory or mesquite, which will overpower your shellfish.
How to smoke clams
1. Fill a large pot with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. Add the clams and cover. Start checking for open shells after 3-4 minutes and pull them out as they open up.
2. Remove the clams from their shells and place them into the Easy Cure brine.
3. Follow steps 4-8 above. I tend to put oysters on the lower racks and clams on the upper racks of the smoker.
The smoker all loaded up and ready to go
So what do you do with smoked oysters and clams? I have a few ideas…
- Chop up finely and add to soups or sauces that need an extra seafood umami flavor. I have added a few to clam chowder, and yesterday we actually added a few to beef stew. Basically any time you would consider adding anchovy paste, you could finely chop up some oysters and add them instead.
- Serve them as appetizers or snacks with cheese and crackers. I store mine in a jam jar in my fridge covered in canola oil (canola has less flavor than other oils). I keep 12-15 in the jar in my fridge and the rest in the freezer. As I use up the ones in the jar I just toss in a few frozen ones into the oil and put them back into the fridge.
Smoked oysters and clams
I haven’t used these as much, but I think they would also make great appetizers. I haven’t tried storing them in oil, but cooked clams freeze well. My mom loves to make clam linguine, so we made it with smoked clams instead.
Mom’s Smoked Clams and Linguine
1 medium onion, finely diced (roughly 1.5 cups) – could also use leeks instead of onion
5 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, divided
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 large cloves of garlic, crushed then finely chopped
0.5 cup dry white wine (my mom prefers Woodbridge Chardonnay)
2 bottles of clam juice (16 ounces), well shaken
0.25 teaspoon celery seed
40-60 smoked clams
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
10 ounces linguine pasta – cooked per directions
0.5 cup pasta water (save just in case you need it)
Salt and pepper
My mother’s rule: Only one drink until the meal is on the table
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet
2. Add chopped onion and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes, add 0.25 teaspoon pepper and a pinch of salt.
3. Add garlic and stir until nice and fragrant, but not browned, 1-2 minutes.
4. Add 0.5 cup wine, increase heat to medium-high and boil for 1 minutes.
5. Add clam juice, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low or low and simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally. You don’t want the clam sauce to taste too watery, so reduce it by at least a cup.
6. Add celery seed, smoked clams and parsley to sauce and mix.
7. Add cooked pasta (remember to reserve a cup of pasta water!) to the sauce and cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes. You want the pasta to soak up some of the sauce. If the pasta soaks up too much and you don’t have enough sauce left add 0.25-0.5 cup of your pasta water to the sauce.
8. Add remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and allow to melt on top. Mix together and serve warm with grated Parmesan.
Linguine with smoked clams