Clams Casino is the most famous clams on the "halfshell" recipe, usually made with littlenecks or cherrystones, and includes peppers, parmesan cheese, and bacon or pancetta. Other common ingredients in the dozens of variations include onions, wine, shallots, bread crumbs, butter, garlic and more, often with a parsley or similar garnish.
They are very popular as appetizers as well as making good main course as they are quite rich and filling. I've cooked several variations and some pictures and tips will follow.
Clams Casino were reportedly "invented" in 1917 at the Little Casino at Narragansett Pier in Rhode Island, and they are still extremely popular and on most Rhode Island restaurant menus today. Legend had it that Mrs. Paran Stevens, a wealthy lady who wanted to impress her guests, and the Little Casino Hotel Maitre d' Julius Keller came up with it and it was named after Little Casino. It is interesting that in the early 1900s, restaurants wanting to make a name for themselves came up with baked shellfish dishes and among the few that are still popular today are Clams Casino and Oysters Rockefeller.
There are many arguments on how these clams should be prepared and we have experimented. Some claim that smoked bacon is the best while others prefer plain bacon and still others opting for pancetta. I am a strong advocate for smoked bacon, thick cut, although I have yet to try them with pancetta.
Some insist on green peppers while others prefer red peppers. I am not a big fan of green peppers, and find using entirely green peppers makes the clams a bit bitter. Red peppers on the other hand make them too sweet. A mixture of half of each is just perfect in my mind.
Another argument is whether wine should be used. Well, I like wine, and although not essential I enjoy pouring a glass for myself while adding some to the Calms Casino mixture while cooking it. I believe it adds to the flavor.
And should bread crumbs be added? I do not have a strong opinion on this and both styles work fine for me, as well as to all of the guests I have served them to.
On the right you see Clams Casino as they just came out of the oven, on a baking tray and on a bed of rock salt. The rock salt simply steadies the clam shells and keeps them facing up so the contents do not fall out.
You can get rock salt at many supermarkets. Mine came from Walmart and is Mortons brand, labeled "Ice Cream Salt."
Click Here to buy it from Amazon if it's tough to find locally.
Here is the Clams Casino recipe I've developed. Feel free to modify based on your likes and availability of ingredients. In other words, feel free to experiment.
First you'll need 18 clams. I prefer Littlenecks, but you can also use Cherrystones which are slightly larger. Maine Mahogany Clams, which are much cheaper, are OK too. Shuck the clams and reserve half the shell, placing each clam in the shell. If shucking it not in your expertise, and it can be hard, you can very slightly steam the clams in about 1/3" of water, plucking each one out as it starts to open, making shucking trivial.
For the filling, you'll need:
3-4 ounces of smoked bacon or pancetta
1 cup diced mixed red and green bell peppers
1 tablespoon freshly minced garlic
1/3 cup of finely diced onions or shallots
1/3 cup breadcrumbs. I make my own or buy unseasoned ones.
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
4-5 tablespoons parmesan cheese, preferably freshly ground
1/3 cup cheap but decent white wine - I usually use Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc
Chop the bacon and cook it in a pan until it is fully cooked and slightly crispy. Remove but leave the bacon fat. and add the peppers, onions or shallots, garlic, and oregano cooking lightly for 5 minutes.
Add the wine and simmer until it is almost dry, remove from heat, and let the mixture cool.
Once cool, add half the parmesan cheese, the bacon or pancetta, and the bread crumbs. Taste and add salt or pepper if desired to taste.
Place the clams in clam shells on a baking pan with rock salt so they are steady and do not rock. Spoon the topping on, slightly mounding it up. Add the rest of the parmesan cheese as a topping (and yes, you will make a mess and spill a bunch on the rock salt).
Bake at 500 degrees or broil if you prefer for 7-10 minutes, and serve.
This Clams Casino Recipe isn't absolute as I've mentioned. It's not like baking, you can substitute wildly. You can even use oysters instead of clams if you'd like as they do in New Orleans|