By James O. Fraioli / Photography by Tucker + Hossler
Clams Casino is a popular American classic, and why shouldn’t it be? It’s hard to beat the combination of tender clams, butter, breadcrumbs, and bacon. Like many beloved classics, the origins of this dish are murky. It’s often attributed to Julius Keller of the Narragansett Pier Casino circa around 1917, although “Soft Clams a la Casino” appeared on the menu at Central Park Casino as early as 1900. Regardless of who created this timeless appetizer, one thing’s for certain—it’s delicious! Just ask guests of the Golden Steer Steakhouse in Las Vegas where this particular take comes from; it’s also featured in the cookbook I wrote: Golden Steer Steakhouse Las Vegas. If you’re familiar with the iconic restaurant, Clams Casino was the requested hors d’oeuvre by regular Steer guest Frank Sinatra. He’d eat dozens at a time before moving on to his main course (a New York Strip with Pizzaiola Sauce).
For Pacific Northwesterners, especially those who love to forage for their own clams like I do, this recipe is a must! I happen to find Clams Casino just as delicious on the Pacific coast as on the Atlantic, and maybe better. That’s because many of our beaches are packed with plump, sweet, meaty clams like the native littlenecks (target the largest ones; perfect for this recipe). When making this starter, at home or onboard, after you shuck the clams and pack them with the clam mixture, you can stop and freeze the clams for up to 1 week if you prefer to serve them later. To prepare, simply defrost for 2 minutes in the microwave (do not cook) and finish in the oven as noted below.
Serves 1 or 2
5 or 6 large fresh clams
Clam Mixture, recipe follows
Crumbled cooked bacon, as needed
Lemon wedges, as needed, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Shuck each clam to loosen the clam meat from the muscle. Keep the meat in the shell and detach and discard the other/empty shell. Next, pack the clamshell with 1 or 2 tablespoons of Clam Mixture, depending on its size, while covering the loosened clam. The mixture should be rounded off on top. Add some crumbled bacon to the top of the mixture, pressing slightly so the bacon doesn’t fall off. Arrange the clams on a baking sheet.
Place the sheet of clams in the preheated oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and arrange the baked clams on a serving tray accompanied by lemon wedges.
Makes enough mixture for 12 clams
1⁄2 roasted red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1⁄4 yellow onion, peeled and diced
1⁄2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 pinches dried oregano
1⁄2 teaspoon white pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon salted butter
1⁄4 cup white wine
1 cup chopped clams
1⁄2 cup clam juice
1⁄2 cup breadcrumbs
Roast a red bell pepper by placing it under the broiler or on a hot outdoor grill, turning often to blister all sides. When the skin is charred and soft, remove from the heat and immediately place in a paper bag, foil, or sealed container to trap the steam. Keep sealed for about 10 minutes. Slice the roasted pepper, removing the stem, seeds, and loose skin, and dice.
Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add the diced pepper, onion, garlic, oregano, white pepper, salt, and butter. Let cook for about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and reduce the heat to low, letting the mixture simmer for about 3 minutes. Add the chopped clams and clam juice, and simmer for another 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the breadcrumbs to thicken the mixture. Remove from the heat and let cool before using.