20 May, 2008

Stuffies!! (Stuffed Clams)

Stuffies! Gorgeous, rich, delicious stuffed clams: Made with huge quahogs (hard-shelled clams) these are a longtime Southern New England favorite. If you've only ever had store-bought or restaurant stuffies, you owe it to yourself to try the real thing.

Here's what you'll need:

5 or 6 very large quahogs (four inches wide or larger - get 'em huge!)
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup finely minced onion
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
8 ounces Ritz or Keebler Townhouse crackers
1/3 cup finely chopped parsely
1/2 tsp paprika
1 rounded tsp Old Bay Seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste

Buy the largest hardshell clams you can find. Hardshell clams have different names depending on what size they are. The smallest ones are called "littlenecks," and the biggest are called "quahogs" or "chowders." In between, they're usually sold as "cherrystones."

Scrub the clams well to remove mud and grit from the outside shells. Don't worry about inside; they should be tightly closed anyway, and there won't be much (if any) grit inside. Put them into a pot with an inch or so of water.

To give you an idea of how big the clams I used were, the picture on the left shows five quahogs in a 6-quart Revere Dutch oven (about 12 inches in diameter.)

Try to set the clams with the hinge side down. They won't steam any faster or more efficiently, but it ensures that the shells have room to open because they won't be wedged up against one another.

Turn on the heat and cover the pan. Keep an eye on it as the water starts to boil. The clams will begin to open up and you want to stop steaming them as soon as they start to open. Steam them too long and they'll be tough and rubbery.

They don't have to be open very far - as little as an eighth of an inch is fine - as long as you can slip a knife in, sever the adductor muscles, and remove the meat from the shell.

Remove the meat from the shells and set them aside until they are cool enough to handle. Pour the broth from the pan over the meat to keep it from drying out.

Don't throw away the clamshells! You'll need them later to hold the stuffing. Select six of the halfshells, scrub them inside and out, and set them aside for later.

With the clam meat set aside to cool, it's time to prepare the stuffing. In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. When the butter heats up, add the garlic and onion. Sautee them gently and don't let anything brown (including the butter!) The idea is to soften the garlic and onion while transferring their wonderful flavors to the butter.

While this is cooking, whirl the crackers in your food processor to make fine crumbs.

Pour the cracker crumbs into the butter-garlic mixture as it is frying; stir and toss it well as you mix. Add the paprika and the Old Bay Seasoning as you mix in the crumbs.

Turn off the heat under the stuffing mixture when the crumbs are all mixed in and the stuffing is clumpy.

Continue to stir and toss as you add the parsley and season the stuffing liberally with freshly ground black pepper.

Chop the clams coarsely and add them to the stuffing along with any clam juices that run out as you are cutting them up. Mix well to distribute the meat evenly throughout the mixture.

The stuffing is ready to use when the clams and seasonings are all tossed in. Give it a taste to be sure the seasonings are correct - you may have to add a bit of salt, but don't do that before tasting; the butter, the clams, and the Old Bay all have some salt in them to begin with.

When the seasonings taste right, pack mounds of stuffing into the six clamshells you saved earlier. Arrange them on a platter and pop them under the broiler or into a toaster oven for a few minutes, just to lightly brown the crumbs. Serve them hot.

Makes six stuffies. (Appetizers for six, lunch for three. Or two, if you really like 'em.)

Want more information about quahogs? Check out this Rhode Island Sea Grant fact sheet about them.

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