One of my favorite childhood foods was clams- pretty much in any form but fried. When we were living at Yokota Air Force Base outside of Tokyo, my parents would take me to this small Japanese restaurant where I would eat bowl after bowl of miso soup laden with teeny-tiny clams the size of a nickel called shijimi. I see miso soup with clams on menus here in California but never with the wee clams that I had in Japan, instead a bigger, slightly briny clam called an asari (Manila clam) is used. On a trip back to Japan a few years back, my friend Mayumi, took me to the Tsukiji market at the crack of dawn and lo and behold they had my clams...the tiny ones! We bought a big bag...the fishmonger even gave us the "bijin discount" (the pretty girl discount) and Mayumi's grandma was kind enough to cook the clams for us for dinner. It's crazy how little things like that can bring you such happiness.
Even though, I can't get my hands on the itty-bitty shijimi clams here I do get some pretty small clams at Sunh Fish and at Oto's from time to time to make asari miso soup with. If I'm feeling particular grown up, I'll make asari no sakamushi (Manila clams steamed in sake). You usually can find this dish served in izakayas (Japanese pubs). The dish requires very few ingredients and minimal work. Mr.S. isn't too crazy about it...he tends to like his mollusks immersed in butter and garlic but the simplicity of the dish suits me just fine especially on nights when I don't want to spend too much time fussing in the kitchen. A bowl of asari no sakamushi, a glass of white wine and I'm set.
Asari No Sakamushi
2 lbs. asari (Manila clams), scrubbed well
1 cup sake ( I used Sho Chiku Bai)
4 tablespoons mirin
1 cup water
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts)
1. Place clams in a colander or a wire sieve. In a large bowl, add one tablespoon of sea salt and fill with cold water. Submerge the colander of clams into the salty water. (Make sure all the clams are covered with the salty water.) Leave in a cool place at least two hours (or up to overnight). The clams will spit out the sand and the sand should fall to the bottom of the bowl. Sometimes if there seems to be a lot of sand, halfway through I'll change out the salted water.
2. Drain the clams and rinse them well. Sometimes if they look a little bit janky, I'll use my scrub brush on them at this point. Throw away any clams that don't close.
3. In a large, deep pan- combine the sake, mirin, and water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Add the clams. Cover the pan.
4. Give the pan a good shake every so often. Cook, roughly 4-5 minutes, until shells open.
5. Discard any clams that refuse to open. You do not want to eat those.
6. Garnish with scallions.
* If you want to add a little more kick, sprinkle some togarashi on the finished product.