Yaki Hamaguri (Grilled Cherrystone Clams) and Saké pairing / Photo by Adrian Mueller Food Styling by Takako Kuniyuki / Prop Styling by Vanessa Vazquez
Clams, oysters, scallops and whelk are all popular barbecue fare in Japan, typically placed on the grill whole and unshucked. Large cherrystone clams are particularly easy to grill whole as they easily spring open over heat and can be hinged flat with little force. Seasoned naturally with sea salt, shellfish require little embellishment beyond a dash of soy sauce or citrus.
Here, a touch of butter, saké and soy sauce lend richness and umami. Using an inexpensive drinking saké is fine, but avoid products labeled as cooking saké, which are seasoned with salt and sweeteners.
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
Preheat grill until medium-hot. Stir saké and soy sauce to combine. In a small dish, soften butter to room temperature.
Place clams directly on the grill, 8–12 at a time. Grill uncovered and undisturbed until shells open, approximately 5–10 minutes. Because the adductor muscles on a clam extend from top to bottom, the bottom of the clam typically releases first due to direct contact with heat. This causes the meat to pop upwards as the shell opens. Be patient, allowing the bottom muscles to fully release and for the clam to spring open. Then, working swiftly, use tongs to grasp the clam off the grill and flip the shell over a small bowl to drain and catch any liquor that pours out. Replace the clam on the grill.
Pry the shell flat using a pair of tongs and a spoon. Dab a half teaspoon of butter over each clam, followed by 1 teaspoon of saké and soy mixture.
Allow butter to melt and liquid to boil for one minute. Use tongs to transfer clams to a platter. Drizzle with any reserved liquor and garnish with chopped scallions. Serve immediately. Serves 4–6 as a side dish.
Genshu saké on the rocks
Clams and saké share base notes of salinity and umami that pair naturally, but fruity top notes in saké can highlight the sweetness in clams, too.
As a respite from the heat of the grill and summer weather, try a genshu, or undiluted saké, on the rocks. Compared to most saké that’s watered down to around 14–15% abv, undiluted saké is higher in alcohol and profoundly concentrated. Served over ice, it’s an exhilarating sip that evolves in aroma, flavor and texture as the ice melts.
Bold, almost candied strawberry and watermelon flavors are particularly juicy in the Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu from Tokushima, Japan—an unpasteurized and undiluted saké sold in a barbecue friendly can. The subtle white pepper and burnt caramel notes in the richly textured, banana-scented Mana 1751, a robust Yamahai Tokubetsu Junmai Muroka Genshu from Fukui, Japan, pairs well with grilled foods.