By Times Staff
When Chris Schlesinger wrote his first cookbook on grilling, "The Thrill of the Grill" with John Willoughby, he included a menu item from his good friend and fellow chef Steve Johnson. Steve was a caterer at that time, and this was one of his favorite dishes because it never failed to attract an audience while he was at the grill making Clams Johnson. When people saw the clams sitting in the broth they would of course want to try one and he would offer.
You can make the presentation a little more elegant if you wish, by serving on a fancier plate or removing the clams from the shells. What is most important, however, is that when you are standing at the grill and making the dish, be ready to offer anybody who wanders over a clam because it is hard to look at these and not want to try one.
Chris, of East Coast Grill in Cambridge's Inman Square and Steve, of Rendevous in Cambridge's Central Square, have reunited in the accompanying video, at food.gloucestertimes.com, to make Clams Johnson, but the exact recipe from Steve seems to have evolved over the years. The original recipe is below, and in the accompanying video you can see how it has changed.
1/2 pound butter, unsalted
1/2 cup white wine
36 littleneck clams
2 lemons, cut in half
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste (white pepper is best if you have it)
1. Combine the butter and wine in a shallow baking pan that can hold all of the clams and withstand low heat on your grill.
2. Wash the clams well to remove sand and excess dirt.
3. Approach the grill: You should have your tongs, your pan containing the butter and wine, a serving platter, and another large platter containing the clams, lemons, parsley and salt and pepper. Some particular attention should be paid to the fire for this preparation. You want to have half your fire medium-high heat, and the other half medium-low.
4. Place the pan with the butter and wine in it on the low-heat side of the grill, and place the clams on the rack on the high-heat side.
5. The clams will open when cooked. This should take about 8 to 11 minutes, depending on your fire.
6. As the clams open, place them in the butter-wine mixture. When all the clams have opened, place them on a serving platter, squeeze the lemon halves over them and sprinkle them with parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
Recipe courtesy of "The Thrill of the Grill" by Christopher Schlesinger and John Willoughby, Chronicle Books, 1996.
Seafood Grilling Tips
Chris Schlesinger says many people are nervous about live fire cookery and seafood because they stick it to the grill.
His three tips for perfect grilled seafood:
1. Have a clean grill over a nice, hot fire.
2. Lightly oil the fish.
3. Don't fool with the fish once it's on the grill.
Clams, mussels, clams and oysters are the easiest seafood to grill. They should go over a "3 Mississippi" heat, about a beer can's height above the grill, where you can just stand to leave your hand for three seconds.
The next easiest to grill are shrimp and scallops. They can be covered with a wet rub - basil, garlic and olive oil - or dry rub - cumin, paprika and coriander - to encourage a crust or carmelization of the outside when grilling.
Next in degree of difficult are steak fish such as tuna, swordfish and salmon, etc. These fish do well with a simple seasoning of salt and pepper after being lightly oiled.
Most difficult to grill are filet fish such as mahimahi, here, striped bass and bluefish. Schlesinger likes to start his fish skin side because he likes the sear marks.
If the fish is getting too dark, and you're worried about the inside being raw, move it to the cooler side of the grill and cover it with pan. This is like moving a dish from the saute burner to the oven.