We are lucky here in Saint Aignan to have a seafood vendor at the Saturday market who comes here from the coastal town of Marennes-d'Oléron, an area where oysters and other mollusks are fished and farmed. Yesterday, we had a lunch of little clam-like coquillages (shellfish) called, in the local language of the French Atlantic coast, des lavagnons.
Les coquillages appelés « lavagnons » ou « lavignons » sur les côtes atlantiques françaises
As is often the case with little-known fish and shellfish, no one name has come to be used for this mollusk in all regions of France. In some places, apparently, the term used is lavagnon, in others lavignon. There is also a bivalve called the donace des canards (Donax trunculus) which some web sites describe as a lavagnon, but the photos I've seen of the shells make me think it's not really the same clam we bought yesterday. I think what we bought is Scrobicularia plana, known in the United Kingdom as the Peppery Furrow Shell.
I like to purge or « faire dégorger » bivalves like clams and cockles in salted water with a little cornmeal added. After a couple of hours in the water, they will have ingested the cornmeal and excreted any sand they might have had in their digestive tract.
We first discovered and devoured lavagnons when we spent a week on the Ile d'Oléron in May 2008. We had the bad fortune that year to arrive on the island (by bridge) during a general strike by the area's commercial fisherman. The port towns and fishing villages were closed down, and all the fish markets and supermarkets on the island had no fish to sell. It seemed silly to be on an island known for it's fishing industry and be reduced to eating meat and vegetables.
Just a minute or two in a hot pan with some olive oil, onion, garlic, and white wine is enough to cook the lavagnons.
The positive side of the situation turned out to be that only the fishermen and boats that go out into open waters to exercise their trade and skills were involved in the strike. On the local markets, the shellfish that could be gathered or grown along the coast were plentiful. We spent the week gorging ourselves on oysters and clams. And we discovered the little bivalves called lavagnons. They were less expensive than the other local clams, called praires and palourdes, and they are sweeter and more delicate.
Serve the quick-cooked bivalves with linguine or spaghetti...
Walt first noticed lavagnons on sale at the market in Saint-Aignan months ago, but we never had a chance to buy and cook any until yesterday. The fish and seafood vendor doesn't have lavagnons for sale every week, so you have to hit it just right. This time, by luck, we were ready and the fish vendor had a basket full of the little mollusks to sell. Walt was down there shopping and picked up 600 grams of lavagnons for seven or so euros.
...and sprinkle on a generous amount of chopped parsley at the last minute.
The photos here sort of speak for themselves. What we made was linguine with what is called white clam sauce (in other words, no tomato). Olive oil, sliced onion and garlic, salt and pepper, a pinch of hot red pepper flakes, some white wine, and some parsley. It takes eight or ten minutes to cook the linguine, two or three minutes to cook the onion and garlic, and then two or three minutes to open the lavagnons or clams in a hot skillet or wok. You don't want to overcook them. The whole meal comes together in less that a quarter of an hour.