When Inagiku, one of Manhattan’s pioneering Japanese restaurants, closed in 2009 after a 35-year run at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Chefs Kakusaburo Sakurai and Ryota Kitagawa joined veteran saké and wine sommelier Toshiyuki Koizumi to ignite a new Japanese food revolution. At Wasan, their cozy East Village restaurant, they merge Japanese techniques with Western flair and a reverence for seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Saké-steamed clams are commonplace in Japan, but at Wasan, they’re given a spicy American kick with a creamy wasabi mayonnaise sauce. Clams are at their peak in cold winter months, but mussels or oysters may be substituted in this simple yet impressive recipe.
½ pound littleneck clams
1 cup mayonnaise
4 tablespoons grated wasabi*
1 tablespoon usukuchi (light-colored) soy sauce*
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup saké
1 green onion, chopped
To prepare the clams:
One day in advance, scrub the clams under running water with a brush. Place the clams in a bowl filled with salt water, then soak overnight in the refrigerator to remove any sand.
To prepare the wasabi mayonnaise sauce:
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, wasabi, soy sauce and sugar, and mix well.
To cook the clams:
Drain the clams and place in a medium-sized pot with saké. Cover and steam the clams over high heat until the shells open. Discard any clams that do not open. Add 6 tablespoons of the sauce to the liquid in the pot and mix until smooth. Serve garnished with chopped green onions. Serves 4.
*Grated wasabi in plastic tubes and usukuchi soy sauce can be purchased at Japanese or Asian food stores, but increasingly are found in mainstream supermarkets as well.
To complement the flavors of the sweet seafood and rich mayonnaise (and in support of breweries still struggling in the aftermath of last year’s tragic earthquake and tsunami), Koizumi recommends a coastal saké from Miyagi in Northern Japan. Creamy and soft on the palate, the Urakasumi Junmai boasts a warm, grainy richness that expands in the mouth.