The more broth, the better with this Thai-style clam soup

Whether you are using large cherrystones, littlenecks, diminutive Manila clams or briny cockles, the technique is the same: Put them in a pot, clamp on the lid and turn the heat full blast.
Whether you are using large cherrystones, littlenecks, diminutive Manila clams or briny cockles, the technique is the same: Put them in a pot, clamp on the lid and turn the heat full blast.PHOTO: NYTIMES

(NYTIMES) - After the feasting - or between feasts, at any rate - there is solace and sanity in a bowl of soup.

This has long been my strategy for counteracting the annual bouts of overindulgence and aiming once again for moderation in all things, edible and otherwise.

A soup, whatever its ingredients may be, is always a restorative meal, and the process of making it has a nurturing effect as well.

  • FRAGRANT THAI-STYLE CLAMS IN COCONUT BROTH

    Preparation time: 30 minutes

    Makes 2 main course or 4 appetiser servings

    INGREDIENTS

    1 tbsp coconut oil

    1 red onion, peeled, halved and sliced into 0.5cm half-moons

    2 cups chicken broth

    1 stalk lemongrass, pale bottom part only, smashed and cut in thick diagonal slices

    3 slices galangal, 0.5cm thick

    3 slices ginger, 0.5cm thick

    3 or 4 small hot Thai chillies, thinly sliced

    4 makrut lime leaves (kaffir leaves), torn

    1 tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar

    1 tbsp fish sauce

    1 cup coconut milk

    Salt, to taste

    900g small clams

    1 cup roughly chopped cilantro, leaves and tender stems

    ½ cup thinly sliced scallions, white and tender green parts

    Lime wedges, for serving

    METHOD

    1. Heat coconut oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

    2. Add lemongrass, galangal, ginger, chillies, lime leaves, sugar and fish sauce. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add coconut milk, then taste broth for salt and adjust. (You may prepare up to this point 1 to 2 hours in advance and leave at room temperature.)

    3. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat and add clams. Cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring once or twice, until all clams have opened.

    4. Transfer clams to soup bowls. Strain broth if desired and ladle over clams. Sprinkle with cilantro and scallions. Squeeze lime over each bowl and serve with lime wedges.

  • And to drink...

  • Unlike a Mediterranean clam preparation, with which you would want an incisive dry white, this Thai-style dish demands a wine that will stand up to the rich, assertive Asian ingredients that will flavour the clams.

    That's a job for a white with lively acidity and discernible sweetness: You guessed it, spaetlese riesling from Germany. It's an all-purpose tool for many spicy dishes.

    Alternatives include sparkling wines with modest sweetness, like Bugey-Cerdon from Savoie, or any number of petillants naturels that have a little unfermented sugar in the wine.

    You should not fear sweet wines, but if you prefer something dry, I suggest gruener veltliner from Austria or perhaps a sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley.

    And if you steadfastly want a red, I've enjoyed Loire cabernet francs, like Chinon and Bourgueil, with Thai food.

    ERIC ASIMOV

I'm not suggesting you open a can. Rather, I'm encouraging you to get reacquainted with your soup pot.

Put on some lentils or black beans to simmer, with or without a ham hock. Perhaps a mushroom soup with miso or a bright green leek puree.

In some cases, it's hard to say whether to call a dish a soup, or to call it soupy, souplike or brothy. All those terms are positives, in any case.

Take steamed clams, for instance. For my purposes, a big bowl of clams bobbing around in a broth of their own qualifies as soup.

Yes, we appreciate each little sweet clammy morsel as we suck it from the shell, but ultimately it is the clams' savoury juices, enjoyed spoonful by spoonful or slurped from the bowl's edge, that really satisfy. With clams, the more broth the better.

There are countless approaches. Garlic, parsley and a splash of wine make the simplest sort of soupy clams.

Whether you use large cherrystones, littlenecks, diminutive Manila clams or briny cockles, the technique is the same: Put them in a pot, clamp on the lid and turn the heat full blast. In a matter of minutes, the clams are open and ready to eat, swimming in a tasty sea.

That's a perfect go-to option, but today I'm making a highly aromatic Thai-style version. It requires very little in the way of advance preparation or chopping, but you may need to make a small detour for a few key aromatic ingredients to perfume the soup. Most Asian groceries will have them.

Lemongrass, galangal, lime leaf, hot pepper and coconut milk are among the classic Thai seasonings for shellfish; using them is dead simple (and all can be stored in the fridge for a week or more).

To release their flavours, crush or bruise them. Bash the lemongrass, tear the lime leaf and slice the galangal before they go in the pot. If you want it especially piquant, smash the hot peppers and add them whole. Otherwise add thinly sliced Thai chillies to taste.

Spicy and refreshing, the bright-tasting broth is a mix of sweet, salty, sour and herbaceous. If you added mussels, scallops or prawns to the clams, no one would complain.

But I still maintain it's the glorious soupiness of this dish that is the real reason to make it.