Monday 11 February 2013

Romantic Valentine's Day Dinner (with Aphrodisiacs)

They say that French is the language of love. So what could be better for Valentine's Day than a romantic meal of French cuisine using alluring aphrodisiacs. Aphrodisiacs are ingredients that historically are said to have qualities that stir up sexual desire. While scientifically there is no real evidence to show that these particular foods do in fact arouse us, Valentine's Day is after all a made up greeting card company holiday, so just have fun with it. 

The aphrodisiacs used in this dinner are clams, fresh herbs, asparagus, chilies and wine. It looks fantastic, takes very little time or effort, and gives you the opportunity to enjoy it closely with your sweetheart while you interact and eat from the same bowl and loaf of bread. On a romantic night of dining in, you don't want to be slaving in the kitchen for hours on end while your date or loved one awkwardly entertains him or herself in the corner. This is perfect for either a fanciful dining experience for two or even just a quick weeknight dinner. 

In this recipe I used Littleneck clams from Prince Edward Island, but you can use any fresh clams that you can find in your area. You could even use mussels instead. Let's take a moment to take about clams and mussels, as there are a couple of important things you need to know, especially if you're cooking them for the first time.

When I buy clams, I always cook them within 36 hours of purchasing them. It's just a safety precaution because they don't last a very long time. Until you're ready to start cooking, keep them in an open container on the bottom shelf of your fridge. If you're not going to eat them the same day you bought them, lay a lightly moistened paper towel over them.  

Clams need to be washed thoroughly before you cook them up. Over the course of their lives they can become quite sandy, which doesn't taste good at all. If you're cooking mussels, you may find a "beard" on the hinged end of the mollusk. Using your fingers or a pair of tweezers, twist it and pull it out if it appears. It's just an inedible, fibrous latch that it uses to hold onto rocks and other things in the sea. Shellfish is usually sold fairly clean but you do have to wash them very well. I recommend soaking them for a couple of minutes in cold water. Then give each clam a little scrub all over with a small brush to remove any sand or barnacles that may appear. Afterwards, give them a quick rinse and let them soak again in cold water for another couple of minutes. That should about do it, but give the clams a final inspection before cooking.

So fresh and so clean, clean

Another important note about clams and mussels is that they must be alive when you cook them. They don't take long to go off after they expire and could make you sick. That's why you can only buy them live or frozen. Luckily, avoiding this is very easy. Just remember that the shells should all be closed tightly before they're cooked and after they're cooked they should all be open. A live clam might open its shell a little bit. If you see one that's open slightly, lightly tap it a few times with another clam or a hard kitchen surface. If within a few seconds it starts to close back up, it's good. If it doesn't close, discard it. That means it's already dead and inedible. Sometimes clams die with their shells closed. So after cooking you do the opposite, discard any that are still closed.


One last note before we get on with the recipe, it calls for a little white wine. Buy any white wine you would drink. A good wine will make good food, a bad wine will make bad food. It's as easy as that. I recommend serving the same bottle of wine with dinner. It will compliment the meal very well and be cohesive. 


2 dozen fresh, live clams
1 1/2 cups of white wine
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
5-6 asparagus spears, chopped
1 large red chili, seeded and chopped (leave seeds in if you like it spicy)
1 small bunch of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Salt & Pepper, coarsely ground
1 loaf of your favourite crusty bread or baguette

Start by placing the bread in the oven and bring up the heat to 100 Fahrenheit or about 38 Celsius just to warm it up. The rest of the recipe will not take very long so you can take the bread out when it's time to serve. 

In a medium-large pot over medium heat, add the butter and olive oil and allow the butter to melt and begin to simmer. Then throw in the shallot and the garlic, stir and cook for two minutes.

Add the asparagus and chili to the pot and stir together. Sautée for an additional 2-3 minutes. 

Add the wine and boost up the heat to medium high. Let the wine cook for about a minute or two. The alcohol will burn off and the wine will come to a simmer.

Season with salt and pepper to taste, taking note that the clams will release their own broth into the sauce that already has a slight saltiness to it already. Throw in half of the parsley and stir. Dump in the clams and quickly place a tight fitting lid over the pot. This will trap the steam and cook the clams beautifully. 

Give the pot a good shake every 30 seconds or so. This will swish the flavours around and distribute the heat evenly. The clicking and clacking of the clams in the pot is one of the best sounds to come out of a kitchen. After 3-4 minutes the clams should be done. Remove the lid and give everything a good stir.

You don't want to overcook the clams or the meat will shrink and get rubbery. Any clams that have not opened by this point are inedible and now is the time to discard them. 

Remove the clams from the pot using a pair of tongs and arrange them in a large bowl. Taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Then pour the broth and the vegetables over the clams. Sprinkle the remaining fresh parsley from a height. Serve immediately with the warm bread out of the oven and two glasses of the same wine you used in the broth. Some lit candles wouldn't hurt either.

This is a beautiful, delicious and aromatic dinner perfect for two people to dig into. Use a fork to pull the meat out of the open shells and eat with some of the vegetables and parsley. You should each have small plate so you can eat over them and reserve the shells. When all the clams are eaten, tear into the warm bread and use pieces of it to sop up all that amazing broth in the bottom of the bowl. 

Pretty amazing, right? This is a scrumptious and romantic way to eat. It's few ingredients prepared in little time but the flavours are bold and luxurious. There is nothing keeping your honey from falling madly in love with you after you serve him or her this. The entire experience is fun, interesting and romantic. You may want to take a peek over at your kitchen when dinner is over to see that there is very little to clean up afterwards. That only gives you loads of time to get down to other Valentine's Day related things... like dessert!


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