My best friend from college has been trying to get me to make these on Christmas Eve for years. Not because she will be present and wants to eat them, mind you, but because I turn to her, beg for suggestions to mix up my family’s seafood-and-appetizers-for-dinner Christmas Eve celebration, and the baked clams, well, they come up.
This year was no different. I emailed her for suggestions. She emailed back that I should really ask Molly Watson. Hardy-har-har. She suggested baked clams. And then this year was different. I asked for the recipe. Her mother-in-law then very kindly emailed the basics back as she sat at the gate at the airport. (Don’t you love how they found elves tiny enough to fit into iPhones and Blackberries and whatnot? Miraculous!)
Mine have a bit more stuff on top of each clam than do hers, because I love me some spicy garlicky breadcrumbs, I really do.
We ate these Christmas Eve to great delight (see the rest of the menu below) – they’d be awfully nice on New Year’s Eve as well, if you’re looking for a treat tonight. Perfection with champagne.
You can ask the fishmonger to shuck the clams for you. In my experience, having made them twice in the past week and having bought the clams from two different fishmongers, one of two things may happen: 1) The fishmonger may tell you one can’t shuck clams. They are wrong. One very much can shuck clams – it’s a bit trickier than oysters, but not that much. Littlenecks are trickier than Manilas, but both can (and should!) be shucked. Still, it is a hassle, so ask the fishmonger to do it for you. 2) The fishmonger may tell you you need to eat/use the shucked clams right away! Immediately! Once shucked they are dead and decomposing! The fishmonger may try to put the fear of god into you or, again, this may be just my experience, into your dashing husband. Again, the fishmonger, on this point, is wrong in my experience. Unless they’ve really mangled the shucking job, the clam should still be intact and even still gripping the shell again once it sits for a bit (in this way, clams are quite different from oysters) – just the hinge is broken and they’ll be easy to pop open when you’re ready to cook. That said, buy the clams the same day you plan to cook them.
This recipe easily doubles or triples. You could even bake half dozen portions in small gratin dishes to serve directly from the oven.
2 dozen Littleneck or Manila clams, shucked
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 – 3 Tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Get the oven nice and hot – at least 400 degrees. Set shucked clams on the half-shell (be sure to scrape off any clam that clings to the other side of the shell into the side you’re cooking – you want all that tiny bit of meat!) on a baking sheet or in a baking dish.
In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, and chile flakes. Drizzle with olive oil and combine again. Distribute evenly on the clams.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes – 10 for slightly softer clams, 12 for those you really liked their cooked seafood cooked. You know who you are.
In the fine tradition of tracking Watson Family Christmas Eve menus, I offer you this:
- Denny’s smoke salmon (with cream cheese, red onion, rye bread)
- Crab salad (homemade mayo, lemon zest, lemon juice, chives) on endive leaves
- Crudités with dip
- Oysters on the half-shell (with frozen jalapeno-lime mignonette – mince a jalapeno, mix it with 2 Tablespoons lime juice and 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar, add salt and pepper, freeze in a metal pan, scrape up into an icy mound and serve with oysters)
- Poached shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce (extra horseradish)
- Baked clams (see above)
- Flatbread two ways (mushrooms, roasted garlic, fontina and pancetta, fig spread, gorgonzola dolce)
- Semifreddo (made with dark toblerone bars in place of torrone Italian nougat to great success)
See? We left out the cheese this year. It was a good menu and there weren’t many leftovers, but we could pare down a bit and not all feel so very very full for so many days after wards. Fewer oysters and clams would have been okay – two dozen each, perhaps, instead of four and three, respectively.