Shells in the Garden

If you’re off to the beach for summer vacation anywhere along the US East Coast, chances are there’s a clam bake in your future.  For those unfamiliar with the idea, a clam bake consists of a variety of shellfish baked together in a vast pot with compatible denizens of a mid-to-late summer garden, including potatoes and corn on the cob.  The collaborative cooking experience produces a beautiful mixture of tastes, as each element flavors the others.

The exact ingredients vary by region, with lobster (sorry, “lobstah”) common up Massachusetts way, while those in the Middle Atlantic area wouldn’t even think of proceeding without crabs and plenty of Old Bay.  Two things all bakes have in common, though, are clams and corn.

Bon Appetit offered its version of the classic oceanside dinner in the August 2018 number.  This recipe, for Skillet Cods, Clams and Corn with Parsley, is perfect for home cooks, as it replaces the giant pot with a large skillet.  There’s still plenty of seafood, of course, though a nearby beach isn’t necessary.  Not strictly speaking, but still preferable, naturally.

Today’s preparation achieves the clam bake’s masterful combination and shading of flavors by cooking the ingredients in stages, with each drawing flavor from previous inhabitants while leaving its calling card for the next.

First the cod is pan-seared, releasing just enough of its essence to leave behind a flavorful broth.  To this wine and shallots are added, and the clams are steamed in the mixture until they open and surrender their nectar.  Next, fresh corn is stirred in, along with a generous dollop of butter. Finally, everything is spooned over the fish, eagerly awaiting the gift.

This is it, the quintessential summer experience, enjoying a clam bake.  No matter whether you’re right on the ocean, or sitting next to the pool; a couple yards from the surf, or a couple thousand miles, for this meal, the ocean comes to you.


Skillet Cod, Clams, and Corn with Parsley

  •  1 and 1/4 pounds skinless cod filets, cut into four pieces
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (*1)
  • 12 littleneck clams
  • 2 medium ears of corn, kernels cut from the cobs (*2)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley (*3)
  • lemon wedges, for serving (*4)

Season cod on both sides with salt and pepper.  Spread the flour evenly over a plate and press each filet’s skin side into the flour, shaking off any excess.  Place the cod on a platter, floured side up.

Set a large skillet over a medium flame.  Pour in two tablespoons of the oil and tilt pan so it coats the bottom.  When the oil shimmers, place the cod filets in a single layer, floured side down.  Shake pan occasionally to prevent sticking.

After about seven minutes, when filet begins to flake and the underside is becoming golden-brown, carefully flip the filet and reduce flame to low.  Cook for about two more minutes, then carefully remove fish to a serving platter.

Turn the flame back up to medium and pour in the remaining two tablespoons of oil.  Add the shallot, stirring often until tender, about two minutes.  Add the wine and cook until reduced by more than half, nearly two minutes.

Add the clams and cover.  Cook for about six minutes, until the clams open.  Discard any that do not.  Transfer clams to serving platter that already holds the cod.

Reduce flame to low and add the corn and butter.  Stir until the butter is melted and the corn is tender, about three minutes.  Spoon skillet contents over cod and clams, sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.


1 – I had part of a bottle of nice California sauvignon blanc, and it worked really well with this recipe.  My good fortune; choose your own path.

2 – If circumstance or convenience denies you fresh corn, frozen corn is an acceptable substitute.  Use a cup’s-worth, or a cup-and-a-qurter.

3 – As is my habit, I chose cilantro instead.  Its fresher and milder taste beats parsley’s bitterness any day.  It’s no contest.  If you stick with parsley…whatever.  It’s your taste buds you’ll insult.

4 – If you can find them, try Meyer lemons.  They still have the requisite zing, though their cross-pollination with tangerines gives the citrus a slightly sweeter profile.  Perfect with fish, and all-in-all a pleasant experience.



4 thoughts on “Shells in the Garden

  1. Just home from the grocery store. I picked up the cod but read about your skillet a little too late. I might have to go back. I don’t believe I’ve ever tried a clam. Sounds yum with your Sauvignon Blanc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Splendid, Crystal! The conversations we have on these pages are thrilling enough; all the more so when a reader tells me she’s discovered the same curiosity that motivated me!

      Just so you know – caveat emptor and all – clams aren’t my tip-top bivalves. Nope, that distinction goes to scallops and to mussels. Although, they’re still mighty tasty here, particularly in combination with those other luscious flavors. Enjoy your own clam bake, 2,000 miles from a Northeastern beach. Maybe you aren’t here in person, though your taste buds and imagination will be! A-yep!

      Oh, it also means much that you’d consider such a recipe, especially in light of your newfound restrictions. Of course, if anyone is going to find a way to make it work, it’ll be you, Crystal the Writer, Crystal the Creative!


      1. I didn’t realize scallops were bivalves. I learn all kinds of things from my Northeastern friend. I’m a mussels girl myself, but I might just need to travel for the clams-done-right. Maybe next year. Lobsterfest is also on my bucket list.

        P.S. Not totally restricting myself just being more conscious of choices. I could so go for a Coke right now.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh Crystal, a little ol’ Coke is no match for you! The first month or two will be tough, but you’ll emerge from the ordeal refreshed and energized. At first, caffeine withdrawal will sap your energy. Then comes the inflection, and from there the upward trajectory.

        It’s not an absolute victory. There still are moments, even now, when I crave nothing more than a condensation-dripping Pepsi. Especially when enjoying something spicy and tomato-y like tacos or pizza. However, the urge continues to fade, both in its frequency and in its intensity.

        Besides, there’s so much more in our pantries and in our refrigerators. Clams, for one. Lobsters, too. Once a day if you’re a member of the Greenwich Yacht Club, once or twice a year if you have to save up for Lobsterfest, as would you or I. Oh well – I suspect we’d enjoy it more.

        May this blog continue inspiring vivid dreams, and conversations more striking yet!

        Liked by 1 person

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