This past Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend and I traded in a prix fixe dinner for a classic homemade Italian meal by way of Chinatown fish markets. We headed out Saturday morning into a blizzard to catch the 6 train to Canal Street, at the end of which are vendors upon vendors selling crab claws, entire tunas, salmon, and lobsters on tables of ice. To say it was a madhouse on a Saturday morning would be an understatement. I pushed my way through throngs of people shouting, “CLAMS! TWO POUNDS OF CLAMS! I HAVE CASH!” (romance has never been my forte) until I was able to walk out thirty minutes later with a bag of shellfish and a king crab leg, for the grand total of $14. A piece of advice: No matter what the signs instead tell you inside, there are three steps to buying fish in the downtown fish markets:
- Push your way through the crowd and grab the attention of the fish vendor then tell him what you want to buy — don’t dawdle and know exactly how many pounds of what you want before you ask him for it.
- He’ll weigh your fish and put it in a bag, then give you a small piece of paper with the price written on it. Take this ticket to the back of the market to pay for your fish in cash. The cashier will sign your piece of paper.
- Go back to the fish vendor, and trade your ticket for the bag. There is a lot of yelling, pushing, and fish everywhere, so don’t wear your Sunday best and prepare to be a little aggressive!
Once home, we set to the task of cooking shellfish for the first time — which turned out to be surprisingly simple! For the sake of being extra cheesy (and because this is such a quintessential date night dish), I’ve broken down the steps into two parts so you can make this with your date:
Linguine alle Vongle (Linguini with Clams)
Serves 2, with some left over
1/2 package linguine pasta
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
24 little neck clams
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
1 cup dry white wine
1 handful flat-leaf parsley
Red chile flakes, to taste
- You: Bring a heavily salted pot of water to a boil, then add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve a 1/4 cup pasta water, drain, and set aside. Chop the shallot and slice the garlic clove into paper-thin slices. Your date: Scrub the clams with water and potato scrubber one at a time, and place them into a colander in the sink under running water.
- You: Add the olive oil to a sauté pan over medium-low heat, then add the shallot once hot. Once the shallots are translucent, add the clams to the pot. (It will feel like you are adding a ton of rocks to a frying pan, but just have faith that they will open and become clammy goodness.) Cook the clams over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes, at which point a few should be starting to open. Add the garlic and the wine, and then cover and bring to a simmer. Cook until the clams open and release their juices, about 6 minutes depending on the size of the clams. Your date: Chop the parsley and reassure your SO that all of the clams will open eventually. Pour yourselves (another) glass of wine and set the table.
- You: As each clam opens, transfer it to a small bowl and set aside. All of the clams should be open wide; discard any clams that are closed or only partially open. Once all of the clams have opened, toss the cooked linguine over low heat in the pan. Add the reserved pasta water, parsley, chile flakes, and clams back into the sauté pan. Your date: Light some candles, help serve, and enjoy!