I say “my versions” because, well, that’s what they are. Slightly different from the traditional, and heartily approved by my three main critics.
I realized a few days ago – much to my horror – that I have never posted recipes for either stuffed clams or clams casino, despite all the clams we dig and eat through the year, and despite the fact that, as a Rhode Island native it is my probably my duty to promote the quahog which, in case you didn’t know, is our state shell.
Anyway, once I realized my gross oversight, I set about to correct it. Fortunately Bill came home the other day with a ton of clams. We froze a bunch, and he left the rest for me to turn into something yummy. Clams casino was his suggestion, but since there were so many clams, I figured I’d do half casino and half stuffed.
I didn’t count the clams, but I’d guess there were about 50 or so littlenecks, so about 25 were stuffed and about 25 were casino’d. (No, that’s not a word. Or even a Rhode Island term. I just made it up.)
First, I worked on the clams casino.
I started by chopping up some sweet red pepper, some onion, and some garlic.
Then, the crackers.
I love Ritz. My grandfather worked for Nabisco many many years ago, and we were insanely brand-loyal when I was growing up. I’ve strayed in other areas, but I love Ritz above all other buttery crackers in the universe.
The other box you see is Carr’s Table Water Crackers. (Just what is a table water cracker? I get that it’s a cracker…for the table…but what’s the water about?) The box was left over from Holiday appetizers, and it got shoved to the side in our cupboard and I forgot it was even there. Ordinarily I would use dried bread crumbs, but since I had these, I figured I should use them up before they went stale. They’re plain, so they’re similar to bread crumbs in the grand scheme of things.
I decided to use 10 of each cracker for my clams casino recipe.
And I decided to stack them, alternating crackers, because people who take pictures of food seem to like to stack things.
I was so thrilled with my sculpture and so in a rush to take a picture, that I just leaned over and snapped this shot.
The leaning tower of crackers.
Then I smacked myself and took a better picture.
Or, at least, a non-leaning picture.
And once I was done being all artsy, I crushed the crackers into a bowl and set them aside.
Next up? The cherry on the sundae.
Best of all, it’s bacon we made.
Isn’t it pretty?
I sliced – with a knife – four not too thick or too thin strips, so about the equivalent of two store-bought-bacon-sized strips.
I diced the bacon and set that aside.
It smelled really good, by the way.
Time to put it all together.
I melted some butter in a small saucepan and added the diced peppers, onion and garlic. I kept the temperature on medium-low because all I wanted to do was soften everything and start blending the flavors together. I added a little salt and pepper and a shake or two of dried thyme.
When the vegetables had softened, I added the crushed crackers.
I mixed it all together, and then set the FABULOUSLY aromatic mixture aside for the moment.
Time to shuck the clams.
Now, I can shuck clams.
I have done it before, and Bill knows I know how although he can’t seem to REMEMBER me shucking clams WITH HIM EVEN THOUGH I WAS PROBABLY STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO HIM AT THE TIME….(deep breath) and I’d wanted a testimonial from him confirming my clam-shucking chops, but his MAN BRAIN doesn’t remember that I can, so the most I could get from him was “I’m sure you can!” as he hurried from the room.
I tried shucking these little guys. I really did. But they were small, and very tightly clamped shut. I tried an assortment of shellfish knives – clam knife, oyster knife – but all I ended up doing was chipping off bits of shell. So, rather than destroy all the shells (which I needed for both recipes), I chose to steam them all briefly. Just enough to kill the stubborn little bivalves and to relax the muscles that held the shell halves closed.
Take that, stubborn bivalves!
Now, speaking of those muscles…it’s funny – with scallops, we eat the muscle. With clams, the muscle, when cooked, gets tougher and chewier than the rest of the meat. Probably because quahog shells are so thick, and those little muscles get a really great workout during their lives, burying themselves in the sand like they do. I imagine little quahog body-building competitions, the clams opening and closing their shells, flexing and contracting for the panel of bivalve judges.
But I digress. Ridiculously.
So – the muscles. I always just ate them, and accepted that occasional chewiness as part of the whole clammy picture.
Bill, who is less accepting of overly chewy textures, started removing the muscles. I don’t remember when he started doing this – maybe last year or the year before – but if you don’t mind taking a few minutes (with the cooked clams) to pop out those little muscles, you will be rewarded with a clam that’s universally tender. And no stringy bits of muscle stuck between your molars.
Bill also suggests putting those little muscle bits into your compost bin. The worms and grubs love ‘em!
So, I popped the muscles out of all the little clams and placed the lightly steamed clams back on half shells.
I put one half back in the fridge (I did all the clams at once), and finished the rest off, casino-style.
First I topped each clam with a little bit of the vegetable/cracker mixture, and then I put 3-4 pieces of diced bacon on top of that.
Just about all clams casino recipes I’ve seen tell you to put ONE piece of bacon on top of the rest of the stuff. So your ONE piece of bacon is about an inch or more square.
I’ve never liked that part. Don’t get me wrong, I love bacon. But that one honkin’ piece of bacon (which usually cooked up to be chewy rather than supremely crispy) was just too much for the soft, delicate little clam below.
So, rebel that I am, I diced the bacon instead.
Just to see how that would work.
Here’s how my little clams looked.
Aren’t they cute? I put them all in a 9 x13 metal cake pan and stuck them in the freezer, because we weren’t going to eat them that night.
Here’s how I cooked them up last night. Well, some of them. Bill had taken most of the clams to his nephew’s house last night – along with our kids – and I had to work. He left six for me, and I cooked them up when I got home later that night.
I started up the broiler, set a rack on the highest level, about 4” or so below the flames.
I put my little clams in a straight line and put them right below the flames for 7 minutes. That’s all it took. I set the timer for 8 minutes, but these were so small they cooked up very quickly.
The taller ones got a little charred, but that’s okay –it’s the bacon part, and I love the crispness.
Anyway, the verdict? Pick your favorite positive superlative. Amazing. Fabulous. Incredible. Those words were used. Bill said these things disappeared VERY quickly last night. I hadn’t had mine yet, so I was really looking forward to my own dinner. I was not disappointed.
Yum. The flavors of the red pepper, onion, and garlic blend together with the butter and crackers, and, when heated, they release liquid that combines with the juice from the cooking clam…mmmmmmmmm. Add to that the sweet, briney flavor of the clam and the crisp, smokey bacon…delicious.
Oh – and dicing up the bacon like that? Yes! Definitely the way I’m going to go from now on. If you prefer a larger piece of bacon, go for it. This is just the way I prefer.
So – that was my version of clams casino.
Onto the stuffies!
There are plenty of versions of stuffies. Some people like them plain (just the bready part, clams, onion maybe, clam broth), others swear by versions with chourizo or other meaty additions. Some people like them as-is. Others (like Bill) love them with generous dashes of hot sauce.
I like to make mine with a blend of my beloved Ritz crackers and bread crumbs. The Ritz crackers add flavor, and the bread crumbs soften the filling. I’ve also just used bits of stale bread, rather than crumbs. For flavor, besides the clams and broth themselves, I like a little lemon juice, minced onion, and small-dice green onion. Yum.
But I’d been toying with a little tweak to that recipe, and here’s the result.
First, I had some of the red pepper/onion/garlic/crackers mixture left. I knew I’d use that.
I also had some clam broth. And more of those Carr’s Table Water Crackers that I had to use up or toss outside to the squirrels. I opted to use them up. I crushed them a bit and put them in some of the clam broth to soften.
And then…I took a cube (about 2 tablespoons) of green Thai curry paste out of the freezer. Bill made a batch a week or two ago and we hadn’t used any yet…but I knew those pretty, spicy green cubes were in there. Now, you may have figured out that the red Thai curry paste is one of my favorite ingredient blends in the entire UNIVERSE, and the green version is a very close second. It’s really good. I think most foods benefit from the addition of either curry paste.
Time for my stuffies to benefit, too.
Once the cube started to soften and blend with the broth and crackers, I added in the remaining casino veggie/cracker mixture.
And then the rest of the diced bacon.
And, finally, the remaining clams, which I’d cut into quarters. Ordinarily I’d chop the clams smaller, but these were so small I didn’t need to.
Oh – and I also added a good squeeze of lemon juice. I’d have used lime juice, but we didn’t have limes. And…hmmm…now that I think about it, we have little cubes of lime juice in the freezer. Oh well. I used lemon.
I put a generous spoonful of this mouthwatering mixture into each of the larger remaining shells (I ended up with 24 stuffies. There would have been more, but I had to taste the stuffing. Several times. And then once or twice more. I had to make sure the flavors really, really worked together, right?
So, those were the stuffies.
But. I wasn’t totally pleased with them. They were yummy, yes, but they were lacking something. They had plenty of flavor, definite heat, but they needed something more….
I don’t know why, but I have been stuck on sauces lately. I made that light little sauce for our lobster sausage, and I’ve been working on creating my own queso as well.
So…a little sauce for my stuffies. (I hear a zillion stuffie-loving Rhode Island natives gasping in horror. (Or horra, since we’re talking in stereotypes here. Heh heh.)
Here’s what I did. I made a little white roux with butter and flour. I added some a splash of chardonnay, some plain yogurt (homemade in the crock pot!) and some milk, whisking thoroughly to keep the mixture smooth. Then I added the zest of half a lemon (would have used lime, but no limes), some dried basil, some salt, and a few kaffir lime leaves torn in half (you don’t want to eat them). It was the lime leaves that did it. They gave this little cream sauce the balance of flavor lacking in the stuffies. OH – almost forgot (I haven’t typed out the recipe yet, so I haven’t been looking at my notes. Til now.) I also added about four tablespoons of crumbled gorgonzola.
I know! Gorgonzola? Didn’t expect that, did you? But it SO works in here. It adds a richness, an earthy, slightly heavier flavor and texture. You don’t think “aha, bleu cheese!” at all when you taste it. But the sauce is all the better for the addition. Trust me. Better yet, make it yourself.
Okay, time to put everything together.
I baked the stuffies at 350 for about 25 minutes. If yours are larger, or if they’ve come straight out of the freezer, you’ll need to bake them longer. You’ll want to cook them until they are steaming hot all the way through.
Ooooh, I’m hungry just remembering…
A little drizzle of sauce…
And a swoon, because these are SO yummy.
Bill said they’re the best stuffies he’s ever had.
And even though he can’t remember that I’ve shucked clams before, I DO value his gustatory opinion.
They’re spicy-hot, but not too hot. And the little bit of sauce helps balance out the heat. The kaffir lime leaves and lemon zest cut the richness a bit…and there’s the smoky bacon in there, too. The soft, buttery stuffing dotted with soft morsels of clams…really, they’re incredibly tasty.
Recipes are below….
Clams Casino and Green Curry Stuffies
About 50 assorted littlenecks and cherrystones (small quahogs), either shucked or lightly steamed so the shells open. You could also use larger clams – just use fewer
For the Casino…
5 tablespoons butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
approx 1/2 small dice onion
approx 1/2 red bell pepper, small dice
10 Ritz crackers, crushed
10 Carrs Table Water Crackers (plain), crushed (you could substitute Saltine crackers here)
2 slices thick bacon, diced
For the Stuffies…
Any remaining ingredients from the clams casino
About 3/4 cup clam broth
An additional 5 or 6 Carrs Table Water Crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons Green Curry Paste
For the Stuffie Sauce…
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons chardonnay
Zest of 1/2 lemon or 1 lime
3 tablespoons (or more, to taste) bleu cheese crumbles
3/4 cup plain, Greek-style yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
2 kaffir lime leaves, torn into 2-3 pieces
salt and pepper to taste
What the Heck to Do With All of This Stuff…
1. If the clams aren’t already clean, rinse them under cold running water and/or scrub them clean.
2. If you can shuck them, go for it. If you can’t, place them in a wide pot with about half an inch of water at the bottom. Cover the pot and steam for about 5-7 minutes or until they are beginning to open. Remove clams from the pot, and remove clams from the shells. As you’re doing this, remove the little muscles from each side of the clam. We throw ours in the compost, but you can toss them in the trash, simmer them in water to make a mild clam broth, or bronze them and make them into earrings. Whatever you prefer. Put the clams in a bowl and put that in the fridge for now. Save the shells – you’ll be using them.
3. Melt the 5 tablespoons butter in a saucepan and add in the garlic, onion and red pepper. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, until softened. Remove from heat and stir in the crushed crackers.
4. Take about half of the clams out of the fridge and place each clam on a half shell. (Make sure no muscles are stuck to the shell – they’re unattractive and unnecessary at this point.) Place about a teaspoon or less of the veggie/cracker mixture on each clam, and top that with about 4 little pieces of the bacon.
5. Put the assembled clams casino in the freezer. You could probably just put them in the fridge, but I like going from the freezer to the broiler. That way your partially cooked (if you steamed them) clams won’t overcook when you’re heating them up later.
6. When you’re ready to eat the clams casino, place a rack as high as it can go in your oven and start up the broiler. Give the oven a few minutes to warm up completely, and then place some of your clams in two rows down the center of an unrimmed cookie sheet. Slide the pan onto the topmost rack and your clams should be right under the broiler flame. Broil for about 7 minutes, but check at five. The toppings should be brown, maybe a little charring on the bacon, and the clam should be warm but not dried out. (The liquid in the veggie/cracker mixture will drip down onto the clam and help keep it moist during this process.)
7. Eat them. Try to share. Yum.
8. Now, to make the stuffies. You should do this after you’ve put the clams casino in the freezer. Get the rest of the clams out of the fridge. Give them a rough chop – you want pieces of clam, not a puree – and set aside.
9. Pour about 3/4 cup of the broth left (in the big pot) from when you steamed the clams. If you didn’t steam the clams at all, just use water. Heat that slightly, and add in the extra crumbled water crackers so they soften. Add whatever is left of the veggie/cracker mixture from the clams casino, and then add the green curry paste. You can add in a squirt of lime or lemon juice at this point, too, if you’d like. Once all of that is well combined, add in the rest of the diced bacon and all of your chopped clams. The mixture should be thick enough to hold its shape. If it’s too liquidy, add more crushed crackers. If you do this, let the mixture sit about ten minutes so that the newly added crackers can absorb moisture. If the mixture is really stiff, pour in a bit more clam broth or water to loosen it up a bit.
10. Get the rest of your clam shells. Spoon some of the mixture into a half shell. You want the stuffing to fill the shell and mound up somewhat. I can’t really give you a measurement here, because it’s going to depend on the size of the clam shells. Don’t cram the stuffing in, just be generous when you full the shell. Keep filling clam shells like this until you’re all out of stuffing.
11. You can bake them now (375 F until they are sizzling hot and slightly crusted) or put them in the fridge until later. OR you can freeze them all and store them for future awesome meals.
12. To make the sauce, which I think enhances and balances the green curry paste in the stuffing, start by melting the 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour and keep whisking until the mixture is smooth. Pour in the chardonnay and mix some more until the mixture is smooth again. Add in the yogurt and the milk, a little at a time, whisking all the while to keep it nice and smooth. Then add in the lemon or lime zest and the bleu cheese crumbles. Stir together and taste at this point. Add salt if you think it needs it. Finally, add in the torn kaffir lime leaves, give it a stir, and shut off the heat. Let it sit while you bake the stuffed clams. To serve, reheat, stir it around some more, and spoon (minus the lime leaves) over your stuffies.