Machas a la parmesana, (surf clams au gratin) one of the classics of Chilean cuisine, was created 50 years ago in
Machas a la parmesana don’t exist in
Italy, and in there is no reference to them before the 50s! I made other au gratin dishes, and had parmigiano to put on pasta, and from this, one day it occurred to me to try it with machas. I tested it around four times and then added them to the menu. Chile
Felicidades a Don Edorado! Cheese with seafood is a definite no-no in traditional Italian cooking: it overpowers the taste of the seafood; it is not done, “Not in our culture. No. Never.” But expatriates and immigrants are different; we break with tradition, speak (more or less) foreign languages, live where summer is winter, marry exotic Chilenas, and put cheese on our seafood. So Don Edorado’s dish became a Chilean classic: delicious and served everywhere, including his Ristorante San Marco, where 200 kg. of machas a week are served a la parmesana.
Machas (Mesodesma donacium), surf clams, have, of course, been part of Amerindian cuisine forever: Archaeologists refer to the “Machas Phase,” 10,600 to 8,000 BP (years before present) of southern coastal
They inhabit sandy beaches from northern
A good thing, because they are really good, and although I assume that they are much more expensive than in the past, they are currently available in supermarkets and the local ferias at 1500 to 2000 CLP/kg. ($1.30-1.70/lb), or precooked and frozen at about $20 a lb. Fresh is better, and you get the shells (30-35 to the kg.).
So, how does one go from live clams to machas a la parmesana? They should be refrigerated until ready to use, and then opened with a small sturdy knife. Inside is the muscular “tongue” (anatomically the “foot” used to dig through the sand) and the body. All is eatable, but only the tongue is used for this dish, so strip away the rest with your fingers and discard (or save for broth). Wash away any sand, pound the tongue gently with a knife handle to relax the muscle, and squeeze out any black substance at the base.
Don Edoardo’s original recipe returned the tongues to the half shell, added a dollop of butter and a spoon of grated parmesan, baked them in a hot oven for a few minutes and served them with wedges of lemon.
Today’s variations include:
- Adding a little lemon juice or white wine before baking
- Adding cream
- Using other cheese—usually Chilean queso mantecoso
- Adding a sliver of garlic (un-Chilean, but like Don Edoardo, I’m an immigrant and don’t always follow the rules.)
When cooked, the tongues turn pink--hence “pink clams” as they are sometimes marketed to English speakers.