Amêijoas da Caldeira de Santo Cristo
Amêijoas, a type of clam, are a notable component of the culinary tradition in São Jorge, a stunning island in the Azores archipelago of Portugal. Nelson Ponta-Graca and his wife Kathy were gracious enough to prepare these for me for Season 2 Episode 7.
These amêijoas are unique, found only in a certain lagoon in São Jorge. This is no ordinary lagoon – it’s a unique confluence of ocean water and rainwater, creating a distinct habitat that has allowed these unique clams to thrive. They are a coveted delicacy, a treasure of the Azorean culinary landscape.
The harvesting of these clams is a seasonal affair, a testament to the islanders’ respect for nature and sustainability. Such restraint prevents overharvesting and safeguards the continued existence of these treasured clams. This sustainable approach reflects the Azorean respect for the environment, a philosophy of living that ensures these magical clams will continue to enchant future generations.
The amêijoas are not just a food source; they’re a symbol of São Jorge, representing the island’s intertwined relationship with the sea and its bounty. They encapsulate the local ethos of living in harmony with nature and making the most of what the environment provides. Thus, the amêijoas of São Jorge are more than just a delicacy – they’re a testament to the island’s unique culture and way of life.
2 lbs clams
4 cups white wine
1 cup butter
5-6 cloves minced garlic
1 bunch chopped parsley
Before cooking, make sure to rinse your clams of any sand and discard any open clams. Let them
sit in water and salt for at least 2 hours, replacing with clean water at least 2 times. In a large pot,
add your wine and garlic and let it reduce at medium heat for 15 minutes. Add in your clams,
parsley, and butter. Once the clams begin to open, they are cooked. Pair your amêijoas with a
glass of white wine and some Portuguese bread!
Cooking amêijoas, like most shellfish, requires careful preparation and timing to ensure they are cooked properly and maintain their delicate flavor. Here are a few tips:
Cleaning: Before you begin cooking, it’s essential to thoroughly clean the amêijoas. Rinse them under cold water and scrub the shells if necessary to remove any dirt or grit. Some people also soak them in a bowl of cold, salted water for a couple of hours to encourage them to expel any sand.
Discarding Dead Clams: Always discard any clams that are already open before cooking. After cooking, also discard any clams that haven’t opened.
Minimal Cooking Time: Overcooking can make amêijoas tough and chewy. They should be cooked just until their shells open, which usually takes around 5-10 minutes depending on the size of the clams and the cooking method.
Flavor Pairings: Amêijoas have a delicate, slightly briny flavor that can be enhanced with simple ingredients. In Portuguese cuisine, they’re often cooked in a mixture of garlic, white wine, and cilantro. A squeeze of lemon juice at the end of cooking can also brighten the flavor.
Serving: Always serve amêijoas immediately after cooking to enjoy them at their best. They’re often served with crusty bread on the side, which is perfect for soaking up the flavorful cooking liquid.
Use the Right Equipment: A large, shallow pan with a lid is ideal for cooking clams. This allows the heat to distribute evenly and helps the clams to cook at the same rate.