After receiving a present of some sake from a friend, we wanted to have a dinner themed around the gift to make the most of it, and what better food to serve than two izakaya favourites, both steeped in the delicate flavours of rice wine. The star of the meal was Asari no Sakamushi, a mountain of fresh white clams, steamed in sake flavoured with plenty of ginger and a pungent sprinkling of garlic chives. As is the case with many other seafood-loving nations around the world, the Japanese know that the best way to treat shellfish is to not mess around and cook them quickly with a few aromatics and a splash of regional wine. To go with the clams we chose a side dish of Nasu Dengaku- soft, creamy baked aubergines topped with a slick of sake-enhanced miso and a nutty crunch of toasted sesame seeds. The grilled, slightly charred vegetable providing a pleasing contrast to the delicate, steamed clams and by cooking both of the dishes with the same sake that we were going to be drinking, we were able to keep a continuity of flavours running through the meal.
Asari no Sakamushi ingredients.
- 1 kilogram white clams
- 120ml sake
- 1 tablespoon shiro shoyu (white soy sauce, or you can use regular soy sauce)
- 1 heaped tablespoon ginger, finely shredded
- 1/2 a leek, finely shredded
- 2 heaped tablespoons garlic chives, finely chopped
- 2 dried red chillies
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges to serve
- Fill a large bowl with cold water, add the clams and leave them for around an hour; over the course of this time they’ll naturally purge themselves of any grit or sand that they contain. Even if you are confident of where you bought your shellfish it’s wise to clean them and check to make sure they’re all alive before cooking. Discard any of the clams which are open or fail to close in response to a sharp tap, or have damaged or broken shells. Scrub any fibrous bits from the clams, then drain them and set aside ready for cooking.
- In a large saucepan, gently heat up your sesame and vegetable oils, when they’re hot add the ginger, leek, red chilli and half of the garlic chives. Fry these vegetables gently until you start to get a pleasant aroma reminiscent of gyoza steaming, then add in your sake. After the sake has come to a simmer, throw in your cleaned clams, quickly stir to coat them fully in the aromatic vegetables then put the lid on your pan.
- Cook the clams with the lid on for four to five minutes- do not be tempted to lift the lid and take a peek during this time as you’ll release the steam and slow down the cooking. After five minutes you can remove the lid and stir the clams, if they haven’t all opened up you can cook for a further minute or two (if any clams remain closed by this point, discard them as they may make you ill). Stir in your shiro shoyu, sprinkle on the remaining garlic chives, then tip the clams and their cooking liquor into your serving bowls.
Nasu Dengaku ingredients.
- 400g aubergine
- 2 level tablespoons shiro miso
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon ginger, grated
- 1 small green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
- 2 teaspoon caster sugar
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- Preheat your oven to 200ºC and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
- Heat one tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a small saucepan, add the ginger and chilli then saute gently for one minute. Reduce the heat to low, then add the miso, sake, water and sugar, stirring to combine fully. Gently bring this mixture to a simmer then cook for about two minutes, until it has slightly thickened and made a brushable paste. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the miso to cool fully.
- Slice your aubergines in half lengthwise, if they are particularly large you may need to score the flesh deeply to speed up the cooking time. Using your hands coat the aubergine halves in the remaining vegetable oil then place them cut side up on the baking tray.
- Bake the aubergines in the oven for fifteen to twenty minutes until the flesh has softened and started to become creamy. Remove the aubergines from the oven and turn up the temperature to 240ºC or turn on the grill. Paint a thin layer of your seasoned miso onto the cut edges of the aubergine, then return to the hot oven or grill for five minutes or until golden and lightly charred at the edges. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the miso glaze while it is still piping hot, then serve.
To complete the meal, serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over the shellfish, a pile of steamed rice to help soak up the clam juices, and a cup or two of chilled sake.
Serves 4 people.