A Textured Braise: beans, fennel, and clams
By Amy Yi
I could see why beans don’t find their way to the table very much these days. But then, when you get to eat tiny pouches of mashed potato-like texture that melt in your mouth, doesn’t it make you just forget?
Serves 2 to 4 | 1 hr
I get that exact nostalgic memory every once in a while, and beans always make their way into the next meal. I enjoy using them as a garnish to a dish, as opposed to supplementing a meal with a whole side of beans. Cooking a batch of beans ahead of time, and scattering their appearance throughout a variety of dishes is a great way to use them. Sprinkle them cold on an afternoon salad, or mash them to pair with roasted chicken, or scatter some on top of garlicky broccolini. There are so many options!
One question that always comes up, is if one should soak or not soak. I’ve heard both, and I’ve heard hard defenses against both. From what I gather, it’s based on how old the beans are; older beans take longer to cook, and therefore you can reduce active cooking time by allowing them to hydrate in water overnight. I like to think hydrating older beans helps them ease into a softer texture, almost like having a warm dip before you get into a hot sauna- less shock to the system.
Here is my recipe on how to cook beans the best way I know how, complemented with other savory bits. Feel free to just follow the bean recipe and apply it to another dish – enjoy!
1 cup beans (I prefer cranberry beans)
1-2 quarts water
Aromatic herbs, thyme, bay leaves, rosemary
1 TB salt
Add all the ingredients together in a pot that can fit at least 3 times its volume, starting with a quart of water. Keep your water to an active simmer. Gradually add the rest of the water, adjusting as needed until beans are 100%, fully creamy. The goal is to have minimal water, and 100% creamy bean interior without blowing out the outer skin. At this point, I like to drain excess cooking water, and fold in a few tablespoons of good olive oil, and perhaps some fresh chopped herbs if I have any on hand.
1 fennel bulb
4 tablespoons of olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
¼ cup dry white wine
¼ cup clam juice (or water if you don’t have)
1 lb small clams like littleneck or manila, scrubbed and washed
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Pinch of red chili flakes
Kosher salt, to taste
THE FENNEL BULB & CLAMS
Wash the fennel bulb, cut off the green top and set aside. Trim any dark parts of the root off, while keeping the bulb intact. Cut the bulb in half, lengthwise. Lay down one half of the bulb on its cut side, and portion it into 4 wedges, all while keeping the root intact. Do the same with the other half, so you have 8 wedges total.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast iron pan. When the pan is medium hot, add as many wedges to the pan without overcrowding to get a nice sear on each side of the wedge. You can do this in a couple of batches as needed. As you turn the wedges, season each side with salt. Set aside the wedges when all of them are browned, and cooked about 50% way through.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan. Add the sliced garlic and shallot; cook on low medium until shallots are soft, but not browned. Add the fennel wedges over the garlic and shallots in one layer. Increase heat to medium high. Add the white wine and clam juice (or water), and pinch of red chili flakes. Bring to a simmer, and reduce liquid by half. Add the clams around the fennel wedges; cover pan with a lid and cook for 4 -5 minutes or until shells open. You can take out the clams that open in order to continue cooking those that have not opened. If the clams don’t open after a few attempts, discard them. Stir in finishing olive oil, and chopped parsley. Garnish the fennel and clams with the beans, and serve all together in a large platter to share.