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Aug 3, 2010
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Wine With . . . Steamed Clams with Chorizo

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

For many of us, a heap of steamed clams is the taste of summer.  Picture this: a warm August evening, a big pot of steaming clams sending its pungent briny/garlicky perfume wafting into the moonlit sky, hunks of fresh French bread for sopping up the juices, and bottles of icy Sauvignon Blanc or other crisp white wine to accent the savory dish and bring joy to the proceedings.  You don’t even need to actually hear the sound of the ocean lapping on the beach -- you can taste it in this dish!

But what happens when the flavor of the clams is ratcheted up a notch or two by the addition of chorizo sausage -- would that same Sauv Blanc still be the go-to choice?  That is what we wanted to find out one recent Sunday evening

Even at its simplest, partnering clams and chorizo turns into an intricate tango of tastes and textures, a paso doble of piquant meat and sweet shellfish.  It is equally adaptable as a first course or a main dish, and it takes mere minutes to prepare.  In this instance we kept the ingredients basic and uncomplicated, but there’s no reason not to embellish the dish with chopped onion, tomato, a bit of bell pepper, a shake of peperoncino.   Add minced cilantro, and/or cumin to give it a more exotic flare if that’s where your sensibility takes you. But whatever else you may do, don’t forget to lay in plenty of bread for mopping up the broth.


(Yields two main course servings.)

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ to 1 pound chorizo, ground, thinly sliced or coarsely diced

2 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 dozen littleneck clams

1 cup dry white wine

Juice of ½ lemon (about ¼ cup)

2 tablespoons minced parsley (optional)

Place the olive oil in a dutch oven or other large stove-top pot.  Add the chorizo and stir over medium heat until it begins to brown.  Add the garlic and cook a couple of minutes more. Stir in the clams and white wine, cover the pot, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring once or twice, for about seven minutes, or until all the clams open.  Stir in the lemon juice, sprinkle with the minced parsley, and dish up immediately.

  t   t   t 

The answer is “no.”  A Sauvignon Blanc worked just fine with this dish, but it wasn’t the obvious top choice.  In fact, we tried two different Sauvignons, one racy and taut (from Chile), the other fleshier and fuller-bodied (from California).  We liked the former more on its own, but much preferred the latter with this dish.  Why?  Because of the chorizo’s spicy heat and robust meaty character.  Though your bowl will undoubtedly have more clams than sausage in it, by the time you get rid of the shells the ratio will be closer to one-to-one. That’s why red wines worked just as well as whites, and why the whites that did succeed were medium-bodied.  One caveat:  Don’t open a white, no matter how weighty, if it’s going to taste overtly of wood barrels.  We found oak and clams to be a very bad combination.     



Approx. Price





Brandal, Rias Baixas (Spain)Albarino 2008

(Imported by Quintessential LLC)






A delicious partner, with just enough heft to hold its own with the sausage, and a hint of salinity lurking behind its summer fruit flavors to enhance the taste of the clams.  Yum!




Charles Krug, Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2009





Ripe and fleshy, so tasting more of melons than citrus fruits, yet with enough zesty acidity to refresh he palate -- something that proved helpful given the spice in the chorizo.



Penfolds, Adelaide (Australia) Riesling “Thomas Hyland” 2008

(Imported by FWE Imports)







Richer in body than many Rieslings, this nonetheless fully dry rendition from Down Under was chock-full of lemon-lime fruit. Sipping it served a similar function as squeezing a wedge of citrus onto the clams.



Perrin, Côtes du Rhône Rouge (France) “Nature” 2009

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)






A fairly simple Côtes du Rhône, meaning showing more plum and dark cherry fruit than earthy spice or leather, this wine’s up-front character is what made it work nicely with this dish.  Quite complex wines often do not do as well with heat and spice, while well-made fruit-forward ones can shine brightly.








Saintsbury, Carneros(California) Pinot Noir “Garnet” 2009







Juicy and full of bright red berry and cherry fruit, this wine sang with the dish, keeping up with the spicy sausage and helping the clams taste even sweeter than they did otherwise.