“I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where scallions on a baked potato was considered exotic and the pizzas were square. Mormon families are not particularly known for reaching great heights when it comes to food and presentation.” – John Sundstrom
I am, originally, a Midwestern boy. While my heart sings the graces of the Pacific Northwest, there seems to be no removing the love for fresh cut alfalfa from these bones. There are moments when I feel embarrassed—in my first college class ever, another student made me repeat myself three times because she didn’t understand my Minnesotan accent when I was simply trying to say an author was “vague” (think bag; the –ag combination gets me every time). Yet, there are other more predominant habits that I refuse to let go of, such as pairing any Mexican dish (authentic or not) with the pure and fabulous taste sensation of Nacho Cheese Doritos.
It took some time to learn to think beyond these habits when I first moved to Washington. I never before had the chance to find out who I am, and what I am about in a new place, entirely on my own. I had to break a certain threshold of comfort before I began to recognize components of myself reflected back at me from new experiences. My process of exploration can be far slower than it is for most, and even then, I tend to tread lightly.
So when I discovered what is now, and will likely continue to be, my favorite restaurant in all of Seattle, it was like walking back into my mother’s kitchen with the novel dishes I never realized I wanted to eat before. I stumbled across Lark when a close friend explained to me the virtues of Seattle Restaurant Week—fabulous eateries from around the city set a fixed three course meal for a downright drool-worthy price. At the time, I was in the middle of my first serious relationship and wanted nothing more than a memorable evening of fine-dining. I chose Lark and we trekked into the city to a meal that remains foundational to how I think about food.
Strangely enough, Lark is one of those places I tell everyone about, yet have only enjoyed meals there with romantic interests. Perhaps it is what contributes to the nostalgia I feel every time I call for a reservation, or the fact that I cannot think about sitting at one of those tables without a pang of love in my chest. I have been very fortunate in that arena and don’t feel I need to separate the people from the food. What is a meal without appropriate company? Lark and its fabulous staff led by John Sundstrom demands serious indulgence—by this, I simply mean that one must go prepared to surrender all expectations. To sit down and plan a meal of small plates that let your imagination run. Very rarely do I take the reins so tightly than when I sit down at one of those tables. Anything and everything will be delectable, but this is no time to choose the familiar.
The first time I went, I pushed myself to a new limit. Though laughable now, clams and chorizo were far outside my comfort zone. My date even asked why the extra bowl was brought out with the dish—fortunately I had the foresight to realize empty shells required a new home, and I said so. We both walked away pleased, but I know I left that table transformed. I was giddy over the crispy chorizo rounds, the grilled bread dipped in a broth inexplicably complex, yet unpretentious. Clams that looked so oddly foreign, but were comforting in the first bite. Garlic meets pickled peppers meets briny clams. There was, and is, no going back.
Fast forward five years and I found myself lusting over John Sundstrom’s self-published beauty, “Lark: Cooking Against The Grain”, in my favorite cookbook store (The Book Larder, for you locals). I unearthed a signed copy and naturally, it was far too good to pass up. I bought it and immediately sought out the ingredients for the dish which set my culinary imagination alight. While I would argue that most of the dishes I post here are simple, this one falls into that category in a different manner. It comes together in a matter of minutes, but what it requires is a serious undertaking in sourcing ingredients. Fresh manila clams during the peak of their season, only the finest Spanish chorizo (not your supermarket stuff), and a local favorite of Mama Lil’s peppers. Give it a try and feel your heart swoon.
Manila Clams with chistorra chorizo, garlic, hot pepper, and parsley
Taken from John Sundstrom’s “Lark: Cooking Against The Grain”
2 lb. manila clams
1 fl. oz. olive oil
4 oz. chistorra chorizo, cut into 1/8 inch rounds
2 T. shallot, peeled and sliced into rings
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
1 fl. oz. dry white wine
2 T. Mama Lil’s hot peppers, chopped
Black pepper, freshly ground
2 T. Italian parsley, chiffonade
Toasted country bread
Wash and pick through the clams, discarding any that are broken or stay open.
Over medium heat in a wide sauce pan that has a lid, add the extra virgin olive oil, chorizo, and shallot. Cook until most of the fat has rendered out and the chorizo is crispy.
Add the garlic and cook until tender, about 1 minute.
Add the claims and stir to coat them with the oil and rendered chorizo.
Add the white wine, hot peppers, and a little salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Cover and cook 3-6 minutes or until all of the clams are open and the sauce is slightly reduced. You will hear the clams start popping open. Discard any clams that haven’t opened.
Adjust seasoning to taste and add the parsley.
Serve in the pan or a large bowl with toasted country bread on the side.