I can't imagine where Spanish cookery would be without garlic and there must be hundreds of recipes that begin with place the chopped onions, garlic and olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan and cook slowly over a gentle flame. Sounds simple, but I can't believe how many people can get this simple first step so horribly wrong. I felt like strangling someone in my kitchen the other day as they were preparing a simple risotto, because the first small steps of any dish are the most important. If you can't get that right you should give up, order a takeaway and get yourselves enrolled in my cookery classes. You do not want to brown your onions and garlic as this leaves a strong, slightly bitter aftertaste in the finished dish. Firstly, warm your pan slightly, not smoking hot but warm, then add a little olive oil. This way you will use less, and actually save you money, because the oil spreads and thins out in the warm pan. Add the onions and garlic, and then place them over a gentle heat. Let them cook slowly without colour, don't fry, but sweat them, and encourage them to release that heavenly smell that can fill your kitchen with the most amazing aroma. Fresh clams or mussels are perfect partners for garlic and appear in most Spanish restaurants in the form of a la marinera. Personally, I prefer clams, as for me, they have a finer flavour and are much easier to prepare. Make sure the shells are closed tight and wash them well before using. Merluza en salsa verde con almejas is one of Spain's most famous dishes. It is basically, fillets of hake with clams, garlic and parsley and it's a national institution in the Basque region. I know there are some people who are wary of garlic, and in its raw state it can be a little daunting. Its strength is diminished considerably with cooking and when cooked slowly for a long time, I don't believe it could offend anyone.
ALMEJAS A LA MARINERA (serves 4)
1kl fresh clams (well cleaned)
2 tbsp olive oil
100g chopped onion
3 garlic cloves (peeled and crushed)
50ml white wine
50ml fish stock
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Heat the olive oil in a heavybottomed saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Cook gently, without colour, until the onion has softened. Add the white wine and fish stock. Increase the heat and bring to the boil. Add the clams, cover with a lid and cook for one minute until the clams start to open. Sprinkle with parsley and season. Divide the clams and broth between 4 warm soup bowls and serve immediately.
BASQUE STYLE FILLETS OF HAKE WITH SALSA VERDE AND CLAMS (serves 4)
4 hake fillets (300g each)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2tbsp chopped parsley
500ml fish stock
Heat the olive oil gently in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the garlic and stir in the flour. Stirring gently, add half the fish stock and bring to the boil for 1 minute. Season the hake fillets and then add them to the pan, skin side down. Cook for 3-4 minutes then turn the fillets over and add the clams. Cook gently for another 3-4 minutes, adding more fish stock when necessary. Remove from the heat; add the chopped parsley, season and serve.
ARROZ CON ALMEJAS (RICE WITH FRESH CLAMS serves 4)
For the rice:
200 g rice (arroz bomba)
175g chopped onion
1-1/2 litres fish stock
150ml olive oil
For the clams:
2 garlic cloves (crushed)
1kl fresh clams (tightly closed)
500ml fish stock
3tbsp. Olive oil
To make the rice:
Sweat the onion in the olive oil over a gentle heat without colour. Add the rice and mix with the onions. Pour over the fish stock and cook until the rice is soft and has absorbed all the liquid (15 minutes). Season.
To cook the clams:
Sweat the garlic in the olive oil and when it starts to colour add the fish stock.
Bring to the boil and add the fresh clams. Cook for 2-3 minutes and allow the clams to open.
Mix the clams and stock with the rice and cook for 1 minute more. Check the seasoning and serve immediately.100ml olive oil