Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Baked stuffed clams for Christmas Eve

Baked stuffed clams have been a fixture of our Christmas Eve dinners for many years.  They are my dad's favorite, and he has typically taken the lead to make them.

Today, I was speaking to my brother on the phone and he wants to make them for his Christmas Eve dinner, but he's never made them before, so he asked me to send him a recipe.

Here it is.  My recipe contains bacon.  If you're sensitive to that, just don't use it, and substitute olive oil for the rendered bacon fat.  Honestly, the clams taste much better with the bacon, but alas, some shun the King of Meats. 

1 dozen cherrystone clams (about 3" across in size), shucked, minced, juice reserved
6 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
2 medium onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3-6 Tbp olive oil, as necessary
Olives, about 1/2 cup, minced
Anchovies, 2-3 filets, minced
Capers, about 2-3 Tbp, drained well
Parsley, about 1/4 cup, finely minced
Thyme, about 1/2 - 1 teaspoon
Soft white stuffing bread cubes, 1-2 bags, or about 8 cups cubed soft white bread (like Arnold or Pepperidge Farm).  Do not use the toasted bread cubes. 
2 cans chopped clams, drained, juice reserved
Clam juice, 8 oz, or as necessary
Salt & pepper to taste (you will likely need NO salt, considering the bacon, anchovies, olives, and capers)

Stuffing is a bit of a "seat-of-the-pants" assembly in my experience -- you put together the 'wet' ingredients, then add in the dry ingredients (in this case, the soft bread cubes), until you have an acceptable stuffing.  My word to the wise: "Go easy." 

First shuck the clams, saving the shells.  You'll have 24 shells to fill.  Wash the clam shells well, being sure to remove any extraneous bits of shell, beard, or sand. 

Mince the fresh clams, and reserve all the liquor.  Discard any sandy bits. 

In a skillet, sauté the bacon until crisp, and remove to paper towels, leaving the bacon drippings in the pan.  If you're avoiding bacon, start with a hot skillet and a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Add a bit of oil to the bacon drippings if you're using them. 

Add in the vegetables -- onions, bell pepper, and garlic -- and sauté lightly until tender, about 10 minutes.   Add pepper to taste.  Avoid salt at this point. 

Add the anchovy filets, and stir well until they disintegrate.  Again, word to the wise -- "Go easy."  Anchovies are powerfully flavored.  If two filets taste good, that does NOT mean that four will taste better.  It is very easy to overpower the stuffing mix with saltiness and fishiness with too many anchovy filets. 

Add in the olives and capers, stirring to combine.  Add the drained, minced fresh clams and the drained minced canned clams.  Stir to combine.  Add in about half of the reserved clam juices (which you've strained to remove any sand).  Warm through.

Off heat, add the parsley, and cooked bacon, and stir to combine.  Add thyme, mix well.  Taste for salt and pepper. 

Pour the whole mixture into a large mixing bowl.  Add to the wet, warm mixture half of the bread cubes.  Mix well.  Does it hold together?  Does there appear to be enough wet for the dry?  If you need more dry, add a few more bread cubes.  Be judicious in how much bread you add. 

Add the reserved clam juices as you see necessary to moisten the mixture.  This stuffing mix should look more like vegetables and clams, with some bread in it, rather than bread, with some vegetables and clams thrown in.  Does that make sense?

Spray the clam shells with release spray.  Spoon in a couple tablespoons of the clam stuffing mixture, and arrange the stuffed shells on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with some paprika for color. 

Bake in a 375°F oven for about 15-18 minutes, until fully warmed through and slightly browned.

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