Lauren Groveman a recipe for delicious living

Savory Clams, Broiled on a Bed of Sea Salt

(May 24, 2007)
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John asked Lauren:

Dear Lauren,

One of my favorite things to order, when in an Italian restaurant, is baked clams. Depending on the restaurant, sometimes they're good and other times not so good. I have tried to make them at home and the crumb mixture that I put on top is ok but it's always so much drier than what I get when in a professional establishment (that knows what it's doing). I'm wondering if you know the secret to getting that perfect balance between moistness and crispness on the top of the clams. Thanks for your help.

Lauren says...

I, too, adore baked clams and so does my family. I love to make them at home, especially when I hear those at the table exclaim "These are the best baked clams I've ever had!" … I'm not clear, though, as to what version of clams you're referring to.

There are two types of "baked clams" offered in restaurants. One type is stuffed, which is when larger (and tougher) "chowder" clams are chopped and combined with a breadcrumb mixture and then mounded back into their original half-shell. Personally, I find those to be way too heavy and, to have very little, if any, clam flavor. The other kind of breaded clam dish uses two smaller types of clams called little neck clams and cherry stones. Here, the clams are, after being opened, left whole and still attached to their bottom shell. Then, the topping is placed on top of the raw clams, before cooking. Usually, both the stuffed and topped clams get baked until done.

Getting back to my way of doing things…First off, my clams aren't baked, they're broiled. To me, this gets the crispest results without robbing the clam of its moisture. Also, instead of putting a breaded topping on the raw clams, I make a savory compound butter that has, folded into it, a combination of cracker crumbs, dried bread crumbs, lots of minced garlic, herbs, some wine and/or fresh lemon juice. Once mixed, this gets wrapped in plastic, elongated into a cylinder and chilled until firm. Then, when I'm ready to cook, I preheat the broiler, cut the butter mixture into rounds and place them on top of each clam. As the butter mixture melts down, it also bathes the clams as they cook and the crumbs magically rise to the top and become both golden and crisp. The results are perfect "baked" clams --that are broiled instead.

For a bit of drama (although not necessary) I usually cook and serve the clams anchored on a round cast-iron baking pan with a shallow layer of coarse sea salt underneath them. Individual oven-proof au gratin dishes are also fun, with our without the salt.

About shucking clams: Since it can be dangerous to open hard-shelled clams yourself, I suggest, for safety sake, that you ask your fish monger to do this for you. Request that the opened clams be placed on a paper tray filled with a bed of crushed ice and then wrapped securely. Once home, immediately place the unopened package (as they were given to you) on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, which is the coldest spot, until ready to top the clams and broil.

So, here are the instructions to prepare my personal rendition of this beloved favorite, Savory Clams, Broiled on a Bed of Sea Salt. Make them and let me know! Enjoy.

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Savory Clams, Broiled on a Bed of Sea Salt

Yield: serves 4 to 6

savory clams

If you love baked clams in restaurants, you'll adore these! My rendition of this old time favorite uses the broiler instead of the conventional bake setting on the oven. The raw clams sit, opened and on their half shell, perched on a bed of sea salt and topped with a truly savory compound butter. If desired, you can use raw rice under the clams instead of the salt (although it's not as dramatic looking). There's also another alternative, for when you want to serve the cooked clams with more sauce underneath. Here, instead of using the salt or rice (or anything), make two separate batches of the compound butter, reducing the crumbs in one batch to 2 rounded tablespoons. After topping the clams with one batch of the original crumb-butter mixture, cut the other half into pieces and place them all around the clams (and a bit of extra on top), allowing the butter mixture to melt down around the clams as they cook. This can also be done on individual baking dishes, as well, allowing 6 to 8 clams per person. Either way, I've been told that these are the best baked clams in the world!

    Ingredients:

  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 generous tablespoon freshly minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup finely ground crumbs (mix Dried Bread Crumbs with crushed savory cracker crumbs such as Breton whole wheat crackers)
  • Up to ˝ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/3 cup minced herbs (mix chives and flat-leaf Italian parsley)
  • 1 teaspoon aromatic dried oregano, crumbled
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine (or use equal amounts of wine and strained fresh lemon juice)
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Coarse sea salt or rock salt, as needed
  • 3 dozen little neck or cherry stone clams, opened but clams left attached to their bottom shell (avoid overly large clams that are more than a mouthful)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese, optional
  • Lemon wedges, as garnish

1) To assemble compound butter and chill: Place the softened butter, garlic, crumbs, cayenne, herbs, pepper and wine (and lemon, if using) into a bowl and, using a fork or sturdy rubber spatula, combine well. Lay a 14-inch doubled sheet of plastic wrap on your work surface and place the compound butter on the center of the plastic. Fold one long side of the wrap over the butter mixture and roll it over, totally enclosing the butter in plastic, but not twisting the ends shut. Roll or squeeze the compound butter into a long, thin, uniform log that's not more than 1-inch in diameter. Chill the log until firm. (If you want more of the compound butter to cook around the clams for a sauce, make a separate batch but reduce the amount of crumbs to 2 rounded tablespoons. Follow remaining instructions.)

2) To set up to broil clams: Have the oven rack placed about 6 to 8 inches from the heat source (the second shelf from the heating element) and preheat the broiler. Cover the bottom of a shallow, rimmed baking sheet (round or rectangular) with an even layer of coarse salt. Or take out 4 to 6 individual shallow, oven-proof au gratin dishes and coat the bottom with salt or leave them empty. Unwrap the compound butter and slice it into 36 slices (each about ¼-inch thick). Place each clam on its half-shell onto the salt, and place a slice of compound butter on top of each one. If you've made the second batch of compound butter (when not using salt), cut it up and dot the areas around the clams and place some extra on top of the clams, as well.

3) To cook the clams and serve: Broil the clams for 7 to 10 minutes (depending on their size and the intensity of your heat source), rotating the pan to cook the clams and brown them evenly. If using parmesan, lightly sprinkle the tops of the clams with the cheese for the last 2 minutes of the cooking process.

    Lauren Logo Timing is Everything

  • The compound butter can be made days ahead and kept frozen, well wrapped. To thaw, place the cylinder in the refrigerator for several hours.

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Lauren Groveman recipes have been featured in many national magazines and local newspapers. Her books "The I love to Cook Book: Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking for Family and Friends" and "Lauren Groveman's Kitchen, Nurturing Food for Family and Friends" are available through Amazon.com.

For in depth information on Lauren Groveman as a writer, teacher, TV & radio host, as well as her recipes and cooking tips visit her website at www.laurengroveman.com

Lauren is a Larchmont resident. She is happily married and blessed with three wonderful children.