If you like Thai food, you’re in for a treat with this recipe for Thai Clams in a Coconut, Ginger & Lime Broth! I discovered Thai food when I was in college and was utterly intoxicated by the layers of flavor and fascinating new ingredients. Later on, I attempted to make at-home versions of some of my favorite dishes, but I invariably relied on ready mixed curry pastes like this one because I wasn’t confident enough to cook from scratch. Also, I had no idea what I was doing. Yup, I ended up running a food blog after a childhood spent living off anything that came out of the freezer and got dropped in a fryer. Weird that’s the way life took me!
Anyway, fast forward several years post-college and I was no longer fearful in the kitchen after teaching myself to cook through a lot of trials and plenty of errors! If you’re following the AIP or need to avoid nightshades, however, Thai food becomes pretty tricky without being able to use chilis. Aside from being a major ingredient in all Thai curry pastes, losing chili means losing the heat that is so crucial in Thai food to balance out the other key elements of flavor: sweet, salty and sour. But I have a few tricks up my sleeves!
While this recipe for Thai Clams is lacking chilis to make it AIP friendly and nightshade free, it’s definitely not lacking in flavor! It’s a simple dish that builds layers by first drawing out the fragrance of its aromatics, then infuses them into a sweet-sour-salty coconut milk broth that is simmered and reduced to concentrate that deliciousness. When the clams are added at the end, they release their own liquid into the broth, so reducing the coconut milk first does two things: it gives the seasonings time to infuse the broth and it prevents the broth from getting too watery once the clams are added. We like to devour the clams then drink up all the delicious, bright and briny broth with a spoon.
Instead of mincing the fresh ginger and garlic, I like to slice them both finely with my mandoline: this creates a lovely mellow sweetness from the garlic and leaves you with pieces of ginger that pop with a gentle heat when you bite into them. For an extra kick at the end, I like to sprinkle the clams with thinly sliced radishes for extra crunch and, again, a little heat – depending of course on the hotness of your radishes!
A quick note: here in Northern Arizona – where the nearest Asian market is pretty much in Las Vegas – it can be tricky to get my mitts on fresh Thai basil. That would absolutely be the best basil to use, but when I can’t find it, I’ll substitute normal fresh Italian basil, then add a teaspoon or so of dried Thai basil leaves to get a hint of the licorice-like flavor of the Thai variety. It’s not perfect, but it will do, especially if you add a little fresh mint, too!
PS – if you too miss the convenience of a ready made Thai curry paste and want to enjoy an AIP & nightshade free version, check out the Thai Green Curry Paste recipe in my cookbook, Nourish. It’s a life saver when it comes to having a flavor booster ready-to-grab in the fridge! It can be the base of everything from a traditional style curry to a bombass vegetable soup recipe and is a great twist to add to something simple like a chicken salad.
- 3 lbs / 1360 g littleneck clams
- 1½ inch piece of fresh ginger
- 4 large cloves of garlic
- 1 medium shallot
- 4 inch piece of fresh lemongrass
- ⅓ cup / 5 g fresh Thai basil leaves (see note)
- 1 tbsp / 15 ml avocado oil
- 1⅔ cups / 400 ml coconut milk
- 3 dried kaffir lime leaves
- 1 tsp / 5 ml gluten free fish sauce
- Optional: 1 tsp / 1 g dried Thai basil leaves (see note)
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml fresh lime juice
- Thinly sliced radishes and green onions.
- CLEAN: Add the clams to a bowl and cover them with cold water. Let them soak for 15 minutes, then pour off the water, and recover them with more cold water. Fill a second bowl halfway with cold water. Use a stiff brush or sponge to remove any sand or debris from each individual clam and then drop them into the second bowl with clean water. Once the clams have been cleaned, tap any open clams on the side of the bowl and watch to see if they close. Discard any clams that do not close. Put the cleaned clams into the fridge while you prep the rest of your ingredients.
- PREP: Scrape the skin from the ginger root with the back of a spoon, then peel the garlic cloves and shallot. Use a mandoline to slice the ginger and garlic finely, then mince the shallot. Use the back of your knife to bruise the fresh lemongrass and remove the tough, woody outer layers. Stack the basil leaves on top of each other, then roll them together to slice them finely into strips.
- SIMMER: Add the oil to the bottom of a large pan over medium heat - whatever you use needs to be large enough to add the clams to later and have a lid. Add the ginger, garlic, shallot and lemongrass to the pan and cook for a minute or two, until fragrant, stirring to avoid any burning or color change. Add the coconut milk, fresh basil, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and dried Thai basil (if using). Stir together and simmer gently on the stove top for 10 - 15 minutes, uncovered, to both infuse and reduce the coconut milk. Reducing the coconut milk down now means that it won't end up too watery later when the clams are added and release extra water into the broth.
- STEAM: Remove and discard the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Drain the clams and rinse them to make sure you've gotten rid of any sand or grit, then add them to the coconut milk broth and cover the pan with a lid. Watch the heat to make sure that the coconut milk broth simmers but doesn't boil and cook until the clams have opened. Uncover the pan, discard any unopened clams and stir through the fresh lime juice. Serve the clams in the broth, with thinly sliced radishes and green onions to garnish. Don't forget to slurp up that broth with a spoon!
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