Living Off The Land (& Sea)
If the thought of combining fire, booze and fresh seafood sounds like fun to you, this recipe is right up your alley.
This is a sophisticated dish that is a nice alternative to a traditional stuffed quahog. The sambuca imparts a subtle hint of sweetness, which balances out the heat, and the stuffing picks up a bit of smokiness from the grill. These are one of my all-time favorite ways to cook cherrystones.
You can prepare the stuffing in advance and freeze it – it will taste just as good.
PREP TIME: 34 minutes
COOK TIME: 6 to 8 minutes
Grilled Clams Sambuca
Quahogs are graded into three categories, depending on their size. The smallest ones are called littlenecks. Mid-sized ones are called cherrystones, and the largest ones are “chowders” or just simple called quahogs. Cherrystones are ideal for this recipe.
Start by giving the clams a good scrub under cold water. Quahogs have very little sand inside their shells, any grit found in them usually comes from sand and mud lodged in the shells. Wash them well, and you will be rewarded with sand-free clams.
The next step is to place the cherrystones in a dish towel, and pop them into the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes. No more, no less. This will shock their abductor muscles, and makes them much easier to shuck.
15 to 20 minutes in the freezer will make the cherrystones much easier to shuck.
Now it’s time to open them up. Always go in on the rounded, not the pointy, side of the quahog, and use a proper knife. You don’t need to muscle the knife in; if you pick the right spot it won’t take much pressure to pop into them.
Put the knife in on the rounded side of the clam and run it straight through the middle. This will cut your shucking time in half and extend your supply.
I learned a great shucking tip from my good friend Ian Campbell two years ago. Ian was once a chef at a high-end restaurant, and one of their specialties was clams casino. Ian taught me that if you run the knife straight down through the middle of the quahog, you can split the meat in half, leaving you with two portions from a single clam. This will extend your clam supply, and cut your shucking time in half. It’s not ideal for all recipes, but perfect for this one.
Six cherrystones become a dozen when you split them in half.
Once all your clams are shucked, put them in the fridge and make the stuffing.
4 ounces diced chourico (spicy Portuguese sausage)
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Franks hot sauce
1-2 tablespoons butter
Dash of salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Sambuca or Pernod (licorice-flavored liqueur) I buy the small nip bottles and use about half of one
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
Sauté the diced chourico for a few minutes, then add the onions, peppers, garlic and Worcestershire sauce. Cook until the vegetables are almost done. Add the butter, spices and hot sauce and crank the heat for about one minute. Push all of the ingredients to one side of the pan. Add the Sambuca, stand back and ignite it! It should burst into flames, which will burn off the alcohol. Turn off the heat, and mix in the panko. Taste and add more seasonings if needed.
Fire! Fire! Fire! Use a long handle-match or an aim-and-flame lighter to ignite the booze. Stand back!
Now stuff a heaping spoonful of this delicious mixture on top of each shucked cherrystone and fire up the grill. you’ll want medium high heat, make sure the grill is good and hot before adding the clams. Place the clams on the grill, close the lid, and cook for about 6 minutes. The clams can quickly burn from below, so keep a good eye on them. Serve them up with a lemon wedge and a splash of hot sauce, and you will be treated to an amazing appetizer fit for a king.
Pop the clams on the grill for 6 minutes, and you will have a mouth-watering appetizer ready to eat.
If you’d like to learn more about digging clams, check out my article from the February 2007 Issue of On The Water Magazine, Happy as a Clam