Baked Mercenaria Mercenaria... Aka baked Clams, or Quahogs

I have a fabulous supplier, close to me, of all manner of delicious goodies.  Oakleaf European actually make twice weekly visits to Rungis, in Paris, and return with fabulous things for restaurants all over the UK, and even fly somethings abroad for one or two special restaurants.  Depending on the season their warehouse smells of truffles, the sweetest figs, planters of aromatic mint, basil, and bunches of chervil.

They can also supply me with all my Aromes and Sevarome pastes - and essential part of my patisserie larder, and Minus 8 vinegar, Japanese ginger vinegar.... The list is seemingly endless.

Returning to my house in the New Forest when I've had a delivery from Oakleaf is like being a child taken into your own sweetshop - my fridges groan with trays of carrots, apples, figs, heirloom tomatoes and the like. But there's the rub, I need to order in 18's rather than 6's - so it's always worth knowing that you have a spare fridge sitting waiting to receive all this bounty, and to supply the main kitchen when required.  Luckily I have a full house so often, that I know I can get through mountains of food in quite short order.

One of the items on my order this week were North Atlantic clams - Mercenaria mercenaria.  They're definitely bigger than venus clams, so not as suited to Linguine Vongole, which is what I would normally make for the 13 year old.  Instead I turned to our North American brethren - they call this type of clam a quahog, and often use it in chowder.  That seemed a little insensitive, given the quality of the clams, so instead I found a recipe which allowed for them to be minced and stuffed, then toasted with Parmesan - that sounded like an umami delight, so I've adapted a recipe by the Devon Seafood Grill, which exists rather bizarrely at the Hershey's resort.  Yes. You read that correctly, Hershey's has its own resort - who knew?

10 large clams, rinsed (I used Mercenaria mercenaria, and had a whopping 17)
100ml of white wine
4 tablespoons shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
115g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh chopped chervil (or parsley)
50g panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon cooking liquid from clams
60g parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

  • Fill a large pot with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Add the clams and reduce heat to a simmer. Allow the clams to open, 6-10 minutes. Remove and allow clams to cool enough to handle. Discard any unopened clams. 
  • Remove the clam meat and mince finely. Break the shells in half and save 10-12 of the nicest shells. 
  • Preheat oven to 180ºC / 350ºF. 
  • In a medium saute pan, melt the butter on medium heat, add the onions, and soften, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until all is moistened. Add more cooking liquid if too dry and more panko if too wet. 
  • Lay the clam shells on a baking tray and fill each clam with the mixture. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese and bake for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is browned. 

Optional: Squeeze fresh lemon juice just before eating.

  • Your clams will come to you "dry", that is not in water, as they actually drown if left in water for too long.  Consequently it will be difficult for you to assess how dirty they are.  I pop mine into a gallon of room temperature water (that's around four litres), with roughly 100g of sea salt (and sometimes a handful of polenta, to see if they will purge themselves).  Depending on the level of activity, I will whip them out after half an hour, and give them a good scrub.  If you pick the shell up, you'll probably feel a certain sliminess on the shell, this is a definite indication they need to be cleaned.  You've only to clean one and compare it to the others to see what I mean, and I've included that in the photos.
  • This recipe calls for you to bring the liquid to the boil, then add the clams - I think you're in real danger of smashing their shells if you do that, so I brought mine to the boil with the clams inside the pan.  However, I do have a power setting on my hob, which I timed, and took less than one minute to come to temperature.  You'll need to make your own judgement based on your equipment.
  • I steamed mine in half plain water, and half sauvignon blanc - well come on - I am a European - it seems like a complete anathema to cook shellfish without some wine in the pan, especially if it's going into a sauce afterwards.
  • Once the lid goes on the pan, the temperature will rise rapidly again, to keep it at a simmer you will need to adjust it downwards slightly.
  • It would be a crime to throw away all that cooking liquor, so sieve it through a fine cloche, and reduce it down!
  • I think it would be worth drying and oiling the shells before filling them, just to ensure that they don't stick too much.

When checking shellfish like clams, there are only a few basic rules:
  • Rinse the clams, checking for any with broken shells - throw away any who's shells are damaged
  • If the shells are not firmly closed, and do not close when you rap them hard - throw them away
  • Do not store them in fresh water
  • When you've cooked them, throw away any which have not opened during cooking!  
  • So, very simple, must close when raw, must be open when cooked...

This is a dirty clam - you can see the dirt ingrained into the rings

These are the same clams when they've been scrubbed

Pop the clams gently into the pot - you don't want to smash their shells

Only cook the clams until they've opened fully, making sure you leave enough room to allow them to "breathe" - move them gently with two spoons if you need to 

Leave the clams to cook slightly

Once the mixture is ready, popped it into the shells and pop it into the oven
Plate the clams onto salt if you're serving more formally, it stops them rolling around