Clams Casino from The Hermit Of ChappaquiddickSteven Raichlen
“The Hermit chopped some ramps and venison bacon and poured a little oil into a cast iron skillet. The scent of sizzling wild garlic filled the kitchen. While the ramps and bacon browned, he took a stale loaf of bread and grated it on an old-fashioned box grater. He added the crumbs and some crumbled dried herbs and browned them with the ramps and bacon … Next, the Hermit produced a wire basket filled with seaweed and Cape Pogue Bay littlenecks … He handed Claire a bowl and an old butter knife. He showed her how to tuck a littleneck into her palm, hinge towards the base of her thumb, then gently pull the blade between the shells with her fingers. She worked over the bowl to catch the juices, and after a few tries, got the hang of it… The shucked clams went on a shallow bed of salt in a large battered metal pie pan. The Hermit had Claire spoon some crumb mixture in each clamshell and place a curl of venison bacon on top. He placed the clams in the oven just long enough to brown the topping. Soon Claire was eating the Chappaquiddick version of clams casino, washed down with a fresh bottle of sarsaparilla.
– From Chapter 16, “Not What I Expected” in Steven Raichlen’s novel The Hermit of Chappaquiddick
Clams Casino from The Hermit Of Chappaquiddick
- Yield: Makes 24 clams, enough to serve 4 to 6 as an appetizer or 2 as a light main course
- 6 strips smokehouse bacon
- 4 ramps or large scallions
- 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling
- 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1-1/2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1-1/2 cups toasted bread crumbs (preferably homemade)
- 24 fresh littleneck clams
- Coarse salt for baking the clams
Make the stuffing: Cut 3 strips of bacon crosswise into thin slivers. Cut each of the remaining 3 strips of bacon crosswise into 8 pieces and set aside. Trim the ramps by cutting off the furry roots and dark green leaves. Finely chop. If using scallions, trim off the root end and thinly slice crosswise. Mince the garlic if using.
Step 2: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the slivered bacon, ramps (or scallions and garlic), oregano, basil, lemon zest, and plenty of black pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until the mixture is browned, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Stir in the bread crumbs and cook until lightly browned, 2 minutes more. Set the stuffing aside.
Step 3: Scrub the clams, discarding any with gapped shells that fail to close when tapped. Shuck the clams, working over a bowl catch the juices. Discard the top shells and loosen the clams from the bottom shell with your shucking knife. Arrange the clams on the half shell in pie pans or a baking sheet filled with a 1/4-inch layer of coarse salt (this holds the clam shells upright).
Step 4: Strain the clam juices into the stuffing mixture and stir to mix. Spoon the stuffing into the shells over the clam meat. Top each with a piece of bacon. The clams can be prepared several hours ahead to this stage, covered and refrigerated.
Step 5: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake the clams until the bacon pieces and crumb mixture are sizzling and browned, 6 to 10 minutes. Serve the Chappaquiddick Clams Casino at once with sarsaparilla or dry white wine.
Ramps are a member of the allium family—a sort of wild green onion with a white bulbous base tapering to spindly green leaves. The flavor suggests garlic, green onion, and leek. In season in the spring, ramps are available at specialty grocers and via mail order (one good sources is www.earthy.com). If unavailable, you can approximate the flavor by combining scallions and garlic. The Hermit uses homemade venison bacon; you’ll get great results with a true smokehouse bacon like Nueske’s.