a recipe for delicious living
Savory Clams, Broiled on a Bed of Sea Salt
(May 24, 2007)
...submit your question to Lauren!
John asked 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.
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.
Broiled on a Bed of Sea Salt
Yield: serves 4 to 6
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!
- 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
- 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.
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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