Happy-As-A-Clam Rice Recipe
Have you ever woken up on a chilly morning and craved a dish that feels like a big, tight hug? A dish that warms you up like your favorite sweater and is as wholesome as a mother tongue? That dish for me is Clam Rice, or as we call it in Vietnamese, Cơm Hến. Originated from the Central region, it is a humble, everyday dish that will surprise you with a burst of flavors. Stir-fried baby clams are served on a bed of seafood-infused rice, alongside crunchy peanuts, fresh vegetables and a rich shrimp-based sauce. The charm lies in its rusticity, a delicate balance between offerings of the ocean and condiments from the earth. Working together, they create a gastronomic delight.
Since I moved to America, Clam Rice has become my go-to dish during the winter months. I can’t keep count of how many rice bowls I’ve had at Virginia’s Eden Center, a popular cuisine hub in the Northeast. Every chef has their own version of the dish, but at the end of the day, it’s that cozy, homey quality that draws people in. The word “hến” (clams) in Vietnamese rhymes with “hên” (good luck), which is why even the sound of it puts a smile on my face. It would be a bit theatrical to compare this dish to a cure, but it has definitely helped me through some tough times.
Recreating and reinventing this dish with what I have in New York has been a journey of joy. Even ploughing through the snow to get to the grocery store was an experience to remember (why does it have to snow so much in New York!? I mean I enjoy the snow but is it necessary to have 22 inches of iced water on the ground…) Without further ado, my recipe for Clam Rice, or as I’d like to call it Happy-As-A-Clam Rice, is below.
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Baby clams (deshelled): 1 lb
Rice: 1.5 cups
Peanuts: 0.5 lb
Bean sprouts: 1 lb
Garlic: 5 cloves
Ginger: a thumb-sized piece
Dried lily flowers: 1 packet (5 oz)
Annatto seeds: 2 tbsp
Vietnamese coriander: 9–10 stems
Pre-made fried red onions: 4 tbsp
Pre-made fried pork skin/Pork rinds: 1 packet (4 oz)
Knorr mushroom seasoning: 2 tbsp
Seafood stock concentrate: 3 tbsp
Hue-style shrimp paste: 3 tbsp
All ingredients could be found at Vietnamese grocery stores. In New York, I shop at Tan Tin Hung on Bowery Street, so highly recommend this place if you live in the city.
Step 1: COOK THE CLAMS
- Wash the baby clams through cold water, then cook them in a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes. Take out and let sit in a bowl.
- Keep the broth over super low heat, add 2–3 slices of ginger and let it simmer till serving.
Step 2: COOK THE RICE
- Bring 3 cups of water to a boil.
- Wash the rice through cold water, rinse and put it in a clean pot.
- Once the water boils, transfer it to the rice pot and bring it to a second boil.
- Reduce heat to low and let it cook for 15–20 minutes.
Step 3: STIR-FRY THE CLAMS
- Finely chop shallots and garlic.
- Add oil to a pan. When the oil is hot, transfer the shallots and half the garlic into the pan and stir for a minute. Reduce heat to medium.
- Add in the clams, stir for about 8–10 minutes, until water comes out and they have brown edges.
- Roughly chop half of the Vietnamese coriander. Add it in the pan. Stir for 2–3 more minutes.
- Add in 2 tbsp fish sauce, 2 tsbp mushroom seasoning, and a pinch of pepper. Mix and then take the pan off heat. Set aside.
Step 4: STIR-FRY PEANUTS IN ANNATTO OIL
- To make annatto oil, add vegetable oil in a small pot or pan over medium heat.
- When the oil is hot, add 2 tbsp annatto seeds. Let them cook in the oil for 5–6 minutes.
- Sift the oil through a strainer. Discard seeds. Put the annatto oil back in the pan.
- Add in the peanuts and stir-fry over medium high heat for about 5–6 minutes. Take off heat.
Step 5: PREPARE VEGETABLES TOPPINGS
- Wash and soak lily flowers in warm water for 10 minutes.
- Cut fresh starfruits into thin slices. Remove seeds if possible.
- Poach bean sprouts in a pot of boiling water for around 1 minutes. Remove from pot.
- Poach lily flowers for about 5 minutes. Remove from pot.
Step 5: MAKE THE SAUCE
- Transfer the peanuts from the pan to a bowl. Keep the remaining annatto oil and put it over medium heat.
- When the oil is hot, add in the remaining chopper garlic, 3 tbsp shrimp paste and a cup of water.
- Cook until thickened. Take off heat.
Step 6: ASSEMBLE
- If needed, reheat the clams over medium heat before serving.
- Serve rice, clams, bean sprouts, lily flowers and starfruits on a plate or in a bowl. Add in few pieces of fried pork skin and 2 tbsp of fried red onions.
- Drizzle a spoonful of sauce and the remaining Vietnamese coriander on top. Enjoy!