Years ago I waited tables in a restaurant that was well known for a steamed clam appetizer. The clams were served piled high in a glass bowl with another glass bowl inverted on top. Carrying this domed structure to the table was a balancing act. Once at the table, when the clams were placed in front of the customer and the domed lid was removed, I inhaled the wafting steam, rich with the flavors of the sea, wine, butter, garlic and fresh herbs. This is still one of my favorite dishes today. The crusty bread dipped in the briny, flavorful sauce is the best part of this meal. Put the bowl right on the center of the table and let everyone enjoy.
The rules for pairing wine and food are not fixed and they are not as strict as they used to be. The basic principle is that the wine and food should complement, not battle against each other.
Acidity in a wine brings a light and fresh flavor. That is why an acidic white wine goes well with fish. If you add a complex sauce to that fish, then it is wise to opt for a white wine with more body, fermented in oak barrel, for instance. The wood adds tannins that bring more complexity to the wine.
An acidic white will have no taste if paired with grilled ribs and a white fish’s delicate taste can be blurred if paired with a powerful Cabernet. Food can exaggerate a feature in a wine. Try almonds for instance (very tannic) paired with a powerful, tannic red wine. The result is quite unpleasant. Try now the almonds with Sherry and you will see how both of them get along well together.
There are some basic rules that should be followed: you cannot match a high-alcohol wine with delicate dishes, for example. But the rules should not be limited to the red = meat. It is possible to have white wine with meat or red wine with fish. For instance, pinot noir is a perfect match for salmon.
Clams in White Wine Sauce
- 1 lb. of fresh clams
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 lemon
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh parsley and chives
- 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
- 1/4 cup half and half
- Sea salt
- Loaf of crusty bread
- In a medium-size sauce pan, turn the burner to medium heat and add 2 Tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil and 1 Tbsp. butter.
- Add 3 cloves of minced garlic and mix with the oil. Cook slowly to soften but do not burn.
- After about 1 minute of cooking the garlic, add 1 lb. of fresh clams and mix with the oil.
- Add a 1/2 cup of white wine, freshly chopped parsley and a small amount of sea salt to the pan and mix with the clams. Cover the sauce pan.
- After about 4-5 minutes, remove the lid. All of the clams should be open (discard any that did not open).
- Remove from heat and add 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter and half and half. Stir into clams until melted and incorporated.
- Transfer the clams and sauce to a shallow bowl.
- Garnish the plate with freshly chopped parsley and a couple slices of lemon. Serve with crusty bread.