In November of 2011, I wrote about a day trip I took with my friends Dan Nattrass and Chad White to Tijuana. Dan, who works at Catalina Offshore Products, and I enjoyed going down with chef friends to introduce them to favorite places. We took Chad first to the fish markets, where we got our first glimpse of chocolate clams, a beautiful bi-valve with a creamy brown shell that inspires thoughts of milk chocolate. After shopping at Mercado Hildalgo we headed over for lunch at Javier Plascencia's Erizo Cebicheria and, what do you know, the clams were there for sale at his little fish market. And we enjoyed them for lunch as a ceviche with tomatoes, cucumber, and ponzu sauce.
I could see the wheels turning in the chef's head. Chad wanted those clams.
But the clams were technically not allowed to cross the border into the U.S. back then. I won't say if Chad got them or not. What I will say is that as of April, any of us in San Diego can get them--finally--at Catalina Offshore Products. They're one of a small handful of distributors bringing them into the U.S.
These clams are harvested in coastal lagoon areas in Mexico from the Magdalena Bay south along the Pacific side of Baja, throughout the Sea of Cortez, and along the coast of the mainland down to Guatemala. It's the first time wild clams have been permitted to cross from Mexico into the U.S. since the 1940's, according to Catalina Offshore Products owner and CEO Dave Rudie.
The key to enjoying chocolate clams is to eat them raw. When they're cooked, they're pretty much like any other clam. Raw, you get the exquisite briny flavor and juice that lends itself to crudos and ceviches.
Last week I went over to see Tommy Gomes at Catalina Offshore Products so we could play with the clams. One thing I learned is that they need cleaning; you can eat almost all of the clam but not the guts. So, Tommy showed me how to remove them.
He then sliced up the rest of the meat--the lips and the vibrant red tongue--and squeezed lemon juice over it, slowly drizzled black truffle oil, and finished it with a little salt. We took a taste and grinned; it was just that good--sweet and briny and tender, complemented by the lemon's acid and the earthiness of the oil. The presentation's no slouch either, with the red lips popping on the plate and back in the shell.
Then Tommy pulled out some pesto and cheese. A dollop of pesto went on the chopped clam, then a sprinkling of parmesan, then some shredded cheddar. He lit up his grill and in a couple of minutes we had another winner of a dish. Easy to make, easier to eat.
The chocolate clams are seasonal, so check with Tommy on Facebook to make sure they're in stock. But make a point of trying these delightful shellfish.