If you like clams, and you like miso soup, I urge you to make this as soon as possible.
In fact, even if you think you don’t like clams, but you like miso soup, I reckon you should at least give this a try.
(If you don’t like clams or miso soup, this might not be for you. But maybe you’d like to rethink your stance. Unless, of course, you have a shellfish allergy, in which case, please don’t rethink your stance.)
When I lived in Japan ten years ago (! showing my age) I was, at first, the pickiest teenager alive. I didn’t eat fish, eggs, potatoes, pretty much any vegetable except carrots and lettuce. But slowly, things changed, and by the end of my year there I ate nearly everything. And what brought me around to clams was the time, one morning, my host mother served a bowl of clam miso soup with breakfast. I was at first wary, then delighted: an instant convert. Now it’s one of my favourite ways to have miso soup.
It’ s a very basic recipe – just three or four ingredients – but the result is both light and rich, deeply savoury and complex. It makes sense: clams (packed with umami) plus miso (also packed with umami). Umami plus umami equals very delicious. Incredibly satisfying. Salty, meaty, but not too intense.
When I’ve had clam miso soup (あさりのみそ汁) in Japan, the clams have always been a small, littleneck variety. They’re lovely and delicate, their thin shells clinking together as you sip from the bowl, the little meaty morsels providing miniature flavour bursts with each mouthful. I’m not sure if this species of clam is commercially available in New Zealand, but nevermind that – just use what you can get. (For me, it was the much larger, but still very tasty, Cloudy Bay clams I picked up from Rachel at the City Market a couple Sundays ago.)
Normally, the key to a good miso soup is a good dashi base, made from dried fish and/or kombu. But because the clams are so packed with flavour, you can get away without making a dashi for this one. (I prefer to make a light, kombu-based dashi beforehand, but it’s entirely optional).
CLAM MISO SOUP
(translated and adapted from this recipe – serves 2)
1 10 x 10cm piece kombu (optional)
2.5 cups water
200g clams (in shell)
1.5 – 2 tbsp miso, depending on how strong you want it
chopped spring onions
Slowly bring kombu and water to a boil over medium heat, let simmer a few minutes, remove kombu (this step is optional if you don’t have kombu).
Add clams and simmer until they all open up. Remove from heat and stir in miso. Add spring onions.
That’s about it. I like to leave it on a low heat for a little while for the flavours to meld, but don’t let it boil again once you add the miso.
ps. somewhat but not entirely coincidentally, in a few days I’m off to Japan for a month or so and will hopefully eat plenty of clam miso soup while I’m over there. If you’d like to follow my adventures I’ll be writing a travel blog of sorts at strangersandnoodles.wordpress.com.