According to Japanese tradition, the clam is served on Hina-matsuri, or Girls’ Day, because is resembles the female organ. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, consider that it also is said clams represent the trinity of a child protected by a father and mother, and yet even a third tradition says that the clam symbolizes the unity of marriage as both shells, like true mates, fit together perfectly and no other will do. Regardless of the symbolism, ushio-jiro or clam soup is requisite eating on Girls’ Day and no one complains because it is delicious.
The recipe is simple enough but be sure to select and clean your fresh clams carefully. You can use canned or frozen clams if fresh is not available, but without the shell you will miss out on the whole symbolism of the clam plus the flavor that the shell imparts.
Choose fresh clams by first visiting a trusted seafood monger or market. If the seafood counter smells unpleasantly fishy, go somewhere else. For this soup recipe, choose small clams. I used small Manila clams which are known for their sweetness. We live in a large metropolitan area near the coast where we receive quick shipments of air-freighted seafood from all over the world. (Local, wild-caught seafood is best but only if fresh, clean and of good quality. I must admit that I also worry about local ocean pollution.) In any case, look for tightly closed shells. Open shells mean dead clams. Place them in a sink or tubful of cold, lightly salted water for about an hour to let them release any sand that might be inside. Then, wash them under clean running water. Pick off any seaweed that might be stuck. Once they are cooked in the soup, discard any clams that did not open. And do not overcook them or they will get tough.
Hamaguri Ushio-jiru is a very light soup. The traditional recipe calls for water instead of dashi so the clam flavor will come through. If you find this too light in flavor, you can use a light dashi (katsuobushi or konbu dashi) instead of water or add a 1/2 tsp. of soy sauce.*
Hamgarui Ushio-jiro Clam Soup
1/2 lb. fresh small baby clams, washed
4 cups water or dashi*
1 6” strip konbu kelp
˝ Tbsp. mirin
a little green for garnish, such as mizuna or mitsuba
Under clean, cool running water, wash the clams well. In a large pot, bring the dashi and konbu to a light boil, then lower heat, cover and allow it to simmer for 15 minutes. Add fresh clams, cover and simmer for about four more minutes or until all the clams shells open. Add wakame and mirin. Take out the konbu strip.
To serve, place several clams in each soup bowl. Pour on broth, including some of the wakame. Add a little greens for garnish. Makes four servings.