It is easy to forget how special it is to be able to find free seafood across the street. I’m a washashore from a landlocked desert state, so it still fills me with toddler-like wonder every time I do it. When I was growing up, seafood was only for special occasions, in one of those restaurants where everything is a portmanteau of “lobster” and “margarita.”
It is also easy to forget that we all need some space — from one another, from our own brains, from the news, from our phones, from our homes. Sending your loved ones off clamming is a great way for everyone to get some space. Promising to cook the clams for them when they return is a great way to earn some good will, which can come in handy these days.
I want to be honest with you. These stuffed clams are neither easy nor quick. They are labor-intensive, attention-hungry, fiddly little jerks. They make a mess, they require multiple cooking vessels, and sometimes they consume the better part of an afternoon. This is all worth it, of course, because they make people happier than just about anything else I’ve ever cooked.
My time living in Provincetown has made the use of linguiça compulsory here, but you can use a different kind of sausage, or omit it altogether if you’d rather — just add a bit of smoked paprika and garlic in with the vegetables. Tinker away, find your recipe (mine kind of tastes like Thanksgiving stuffing, because I already miss it), and serve these screaming hot, with a chunk of lemon, a bottle of hot sauce, a cold beer, and play your cards, or your dominoes, or your backgammon, now that you’ve all gotten a breather and are ready to be together again.
Adapted from the Pop+Dutch Snackbook, Vol. 1
For the clams
4 cloves garlic
4 stalks celery
4 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1¼ cup dry vermouth (divided)
A few sprigs thyme
30-40 quahogs or cherrystones
For the stuffing
½ lb. linguiça
8 oz. mushrooms
½ bulb fennel
2 sprigs sage
2 sprigs rosemary
1 cup breadcrumbs
Black pepper, to taste
Scrub your clams in the coldest water you can stand, tossing out any that don’t slam shut when you mess with them.
Chop the onion and celery and smash the garlic. Sauté them in the olive oil in a deep, heavy pan with a lid until fragrant and starting to brown. Add the bay leaves, thyme, and half cup of the vermouth (white wine works fine, too). Bring to a boil, then steam clams, covered, in two or three batches. Check on them occasionally and pull them out as they open. Discard any that don’t open after 7-10 minutes. Let your clams cool while you start your stuffing. Strain the clam liquid and reserve — it’s great for chowder!
Chop the linguiça (or use the ground stuff) and brown it. I like to do this in the same pan used for the clams; it just needs a quick rinse and dry. Add the leeks and cook until they soften and shrink down, adding a splash of olive oil if they start to stick.
Dice the mushrooms and fennel and slice the leeks, and sauté until they start to brown. Mince and stir in the sage and rosemary. Deglaze the pan with the rest of the vermouth or white wine and turn off the heat. Chop your clams, then add them and any liquid they produce to the pan with the breadcrumbs and mix well. Taste for seasoning: you’ll probably want pepper but not any salt; the clams really bring their own.
Choose the prettiest, most medium-sized clam shell halves and give them a hot rinse to remove any sand or sinew. Fill as many as your stuffing allows — around two dozen, depending on the size of the clams — dot with butter, and bake at 375°F for 20 minutes or until brown on top.
(You can also make and freeze these ahead to bake later. Wrap each stuffed clam in foil, then plastic wrap, and freeze. That way you can have an individual serving the next time your cold beer is lonely. Bake in the foil at 375°F for 15 minutes, then unwrap and bake uncovered for 10 more — or until they’re hot all the way through and a little brown on top.)