Fresh Littleneck Clams, Plus How to Quick-Smoke Them

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PE & DD Seafood sells the fish it catches off the coast of Long Island every Monday at the Union Square Greenmarket. They usually carry hard-shell clams of the small, sweet littleneck variety, which are perfect for a late summer grill-up, along with corn and sliced tomatoes.

Salty clams are a natural partner for smoky seasonings. All you need is a handful of wood chips, a disposable aluminum tray, and a patch of sidewalk, park, or roof big enough for a habachi.

In the recipe that follows, the clams get three degrees of smokiness: wood smoke, smoked paprika, and bacon.

Smoked Clams With Bacon and Pimentón
Yield: About 2 servings

To begin, take about 2 cups of wood chips -- hickory, mesquite, oak, cherry, or whatever you can get your hands on -- and put them in a bowl of water to soak for an hour. When you are ready to cook, drain the chips.

2-3 dozen littleneck clams
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika)
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (12-ounce) can lager or pilsner beer
1 (8-ounce) jar clam juice
salt, if necessary

Scrub the clams under cold running water. Build an indirect heat charcoal fire in your grill -- build the coals up on one side of the grill so that one half of the grate is very hot and the other is cooler. Sprinkle the soaked wood chips over the pile of coals so that they send up smoke.

Place an aluminum or grill-safe pan on the cooler side of the grate, and place the butter in it to melt. Add the bacon and garlic, and cook, stirring, until the garlic has softened and the bacon has rendered much of its fat and become crisp. Add the pimentón, chile powder, and black pepper, and cook about one minute, stirring, until fragrant. Add the clams, beer, and clam juice to the pan, stir, and move the pan to the hot side of the grate. Cover the grill, leaving the air vents open, and cook for about 5 minutes. Uncover the grill and stir the clams around, then cover it and cook another 10 minutes. Repeat until most of the clams have opened. Discard any clams that have not opened after about 20 minutes.

Taste the broth for seasoning, and add salt if necessary. Serve immediately with hunks of good bread.

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