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Wednesday 25 February 2009

Date with CrimeFest 2009

The arrangements for this year’s CrimeFest (Bristol, 14th - 17th May) are well underway. I shall be attending this year - along with other John Murray writers, Giles Brandreth, Declan Hughes and Cassandra Clarke - and taking part in two panels.

The first, Suspicion: Building the Suspense, Friday 15th May at 3 p.m., will be moderated by Margaret Murphy. Also on the panel will be Ann Cleeves, Brian McGilloway and Yrsa Sigurdardottir.

The second panel is called Pick-Up on South Street: A Date with Debut Authors (after the 1953 film starring Richard Widmark and Thelma Ritter, in which a pickpocket unwittingly lifts from a woman’s handbag a message destined for enemy agents and becomes a target for a Communist spy ring. Lots of dark looks and turned up collars.) This panel is on Sunday 17th at 9.30 a.m. and will be moderated by Peter Guttridge. The other members of the panel are Alison Bruce, Steven Hague, M.R.Hall, Matt Hilton and Jenni Mills.

I know that CrimeFest, which is organized by Myles Allfrey and Adrian Muller, was a great success last year. I ’m looking forward to it.

First Shot Award, Debut Novel of the Year

I was delighted - and honoured - to find out recently that The Maze of Cadiz had been picked for the First Shot Award (for a debut novel) in Mike Ripley’s Shot of the Year Awards, 2008 ….

and also named by Nick Hay, in his Mysteries of the Year 2008, as Debut Novel of the Year.

Is there a smiley for such things?

Sunday 15 February 2009

Are There Clams in Heaven? - More Tastes of Cadiz

Around fifty years ago, the peculiarly Spanish humourist Álvaro de Laiglesia published a collection of stories entitled En el cielo no hay almejas - In Heaven there are no Clams - the implication being that heaven must be a pretty boring place without them.

I love clams - much prefer them to mussels. They have a more delicate taste and texture. I enjoyed eating them out for years before I got around to making them myself and when I did, I wondered why it had taken me so long. They are very easy and quick to prepare, and taste wonderful.

In The Maze of Cadiz , before Peter Cotton eats his Atún Encebollado (see earlier blog entry) he has a dish of clams as a first course, and some fried green peppers - definitely part of the tapestry of smells of Cadiz.

The peppers are those small, long, thin-skinned ones that are so common in Spain but not readily available in the UK. I have seen them occasionally in specialist delis or greengrocers - usually called Italian peppers. The ones Cotton ate were deep-fried gently in olive oil - left whole with the stalk, (drain well on kitchen paper) and sprinkled with a little salt. They can be eaten with the fingers, holding them by the stalk. I don’t often cook them myself but occasionally taste them in Spain (they are delicious but quite rich),

The clams Cotton ate were almost certainly almejas a la marinera.

Clams must be very fresh. You need to go to a good fishmonger to buy them alive and in their shells. Nothing else will do. If any shells are damaged, discard them. If any are open, tap them. If the shell closes immediately the clam is alive and can be used. If not, you must discard it.

Clams are easier to clean than mussels - no shell scrubbing and bearding. When I get them home I rinse them carefully in a couple of changes of water and then, before cooking, soak them for a while in water with a squeeze of lemon juice to get rid of any grit. Again, watch for any shells that don’t close when tapped.

This is how almejas a la marinera are usually prepared in Cadiz:


  • 750 grms - 1k fresh clams - consult with your fishmonger for taste and texture
  • Good virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cloves garlic sliced thinly
  • A few spring onions ( or one if they are the large Spanish kind)
  • Tsp Spanish sweet paprika
  • A glass of dry sherry (fino or manzanilla) or dry white wine
  • a little salt and black pepper
  • chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)
  • lemon quarters to garnish
  • some good crusty bread to eat with it


  • Heat the oil gently in a pan
  • Before it gets too hot (to prevent burning) add the chopped spring onion and the garlic and cook until soft
  • Turn the heat up and add the paprika, the clams, the white wine a little salt and black pepper
  • Shake the pan, cover and cook until the clams have opened - no longer or they will lose texture and flavour. (Any clam that has not opened should be discarded)
  • Stir in the finely chopped parsley (some gaditano cooks say parsley shouldn’t be added - it’s up to you)
  • Serve and eat immediately, garnished with lemon quarters.