Spaghetti with clams

Mitch Tonks runs RockFish Grill & Seafood Market in Clifton, Bristol. He is an award-winning chef, restaurateur and food writer and has two other seafood restaurants in Dartmouth.

Here’s the Catch

With sustainable fishing top on the agenda, each month new flavour columnist and seafood specialist Mitch Tonks cooks up a storm with his seasonal fish of choice…

Clams don’t get much airtime compared to their fellow shellfish, apart from in the US where the clam is featured regularly in the good old American favourite, clam chowder. But if you’re a fan of mussels (and who isn’t?) then try a few more clam dishes. Each bite is very juicy, with a combination of saltiness you’d expect alongside the sweeter taste of the meat, like you might find with lobster or scallops. There are many varieties but the ones you will find most often are carpet shell clams, razor clams and surf clams.

If you’re lucky enough to spend time at the coast you may well have seen the little blow holes made by razor clams which bury themselves in the sand and occasionally pop to the surface. You’ve got to be nimble and fast to catch them, they’ll head back below the sand as fast as they can but not a lot will beat a fresh catch of razors just grilled on the barbeque – put it on your list of ‘must dos’!

The palourde or carpet shell gets its name from the stunning carpet-like pattern of dark brown streaks on its pale shell. These shellfish, which grow to around 8cm, are found near the high-water mark at low tide, two holes in the sand giving their presence away. Although palourdes are eaten with relish by the French, Spanish and Portuguese, they seem to have disappeared off the British menu, which is a surprise as the Victorians were terribly enthusiastic about them calling them “butter-fish” because they thought them richer and sweeter than cockles. The surf clam is a smoother-shelled clam and along with palourdes and razors, they can be found in most good fishmongers.

There are plenty of clams in the South Coast fisheries harvested by sustainable methods so this is a good and pleasing choice of seafood for all.

Work well with…

Clams of course work very well with other shellfish. I love to bake them with mussels, langoustines, chilli, white wine and passata. Chuck on a few herbs and bake tightly in a parcel in the oven so that it all steams together and can be served on the table. Realising beautiful colours and aromas, it looks fantastic and won’t disappoint. Also fantastic steamed open with sherry and a handful of coriander; a lovely Mediterranean combination. The clam works very well too with cured meats like chorizo and bacon, the combination of fat and saltiness is sublime!

Spaghetti with clams, olive oil and parsley

This recipe is a classic mix of pasta with shellfish. You can use mussels if you prefer but overall it is simple to make and a perfect dish for sharing with friends.

(Serves 2)
100ml extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
2 handfuls of clams
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped
A few handfuls of cooked spaghetti
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf


  1. Put the oil into a pan over a gentle heat and add the garlic.
  2. Give it a good stir to ensure the oil is well flavoured.
  3. Add the clams, half the parsley and the bayleaf and stir again, turning the clams over so they become coated in the oil and garlic.
  4. Cover the pan, turn the heat up slightly and wait for the clams to steam open – they will release loads of fabulous juice into the pan.
  5. If the clams take some time to open, don’t let them fry, just add a splash of water to create some steam to help them along.
  6. Remove from the heat, add the spaghetti, chilli and the remaining parsley, and toss together until the pasta is just warmed through.

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