My first job in the restaurant business was as a dishwasher and prep cook at one of the busiest seafood restaurants in Florida. In the old days, a cook started at the very bottom end of a restaurant. You had to learn how to scrub pots, wash dishes and clean, before you learned how to cook! Dishwashing at a bushy little restaurant is a great way to develop good hand speed and agility.
The menu at the seafood restaurant consisted of simple old fashioned broiled or fried seafood. The seafood was so fresh that it needed no sauces or fancy preparations. The seafood restaurant had a 75 seat capacity and we served over 900 customers a night. That steaming hot Florida seafood restaurant was a gold mine! The waiting line to get in was a block long. Sometimes customers waited an hour for a table, but the long wait was well worth it.
One night, the manager cooked a fancy clam dish that was not on the menu. I asked what the dish was called and he said "Try one!" One Clam Casino was all that it took to get hooked, because the flavor was incredibly good!
A few years later in the early 1980's, I learned the Clams Casino recipe while working at an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia. Clams Casino was a local favorite at that time and it sold well. The aroma of Clams Casino was nearly irresistible and the same topping worked well on oily fish like Mackerel or Bluefish.
The only variable in a Clams Casino recipe is the choice of bacon. Cheap bacon tastes like cheap bacon. A light hickory smoked bacon is best for this recipe. Any size of Hardshell Clam (Quahog) from Little Neck up to Cherrystone can be used to make Clams Casino. Many chefs prefer small Littleneck Clams for this recipe.
This recipe yields enough topping for 1 dozen medium size Hard Shell Clams! (Six medium size Clams Casino is considered to be an appetizer size portion.)
A good clam knife is essential. An old fashioned white handle Dexter Russell clam knife is still the best choice, because the handle floats in water.
Step 1: Heat a sauté pan over medium low heat.
Add 3 strips of hickory smoked bacon that are finely chopped.
Gently sauté the bacon till the grease renders and some light golden brow highlights appear.
Step 2: Drain off all but 1/2 tablespoon of the bacon grease.
Return the pan to medium low heat.
Step 3: Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Add 1 tablespoon of minced garlic.
Add 1 tablespoon of minced shallot.
Add 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion.
Add 1/4 cup of finely chopped mixed red bell pepper and green bell pepper.
Add 2 pinches of oregano.
Add 2 pinches of sea salt and black pepper.
Step 4: Briefly sauté till the peppers and onions just start to become tender.
Add 2 tablespoons of dry white wine.
Toss the ingredients together.
Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature.
Step 5: Shuck 12 fresh medium size Hard Shell Clams (Quahog), so the meat is still attached on the half shell.
Rinse any broken shell bits off of the clams under cold running water.
Cut the muscle that attaches the clam meat to the half shell.
Step 6: Line a roasting pan with a bed of rock salt. (A bed of rock salt on the pan allows the clams to sit evenly.)
Place the clams on the half shell on the rock salt lined pan.
Step 7: Place about 2 teaspoons of the prepared casino topping on each clam.
Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice on each clam.
Sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon of fine grated Parmigiana Cheese on the casino topping on each clam.
Sprinkle 2 to 3 pinches of fine plain French bread crumbs on each clam.
Drizzle about 1/4 teaspoon of virgin olive oil on each clam.
Step 8: Place the roasting pan and clams in a 350ºF oven.
Bake the Clams Casino till a few golden brown highlights appear on the topping and the clams are fully cooked.
*The baking time depends on the size of the clams. The clams casino is done baking when the shells are hot and light golden brown highlights appear on the topping.
Place a bed of parsley sprigs or endive lettuce on a plate.
Set each Clams Casino on the bed of greens.
Sprinkle 2 pinches of chopped Italian Parsley over the clams.
Garnish the center of the plate with a fluted lemon slice that has fine chopped parsley pressed onto the surface.
The aroma and flavor of classic Clams Casino is simply irresistible!