Clam pie, or quahog pie as it is often known, is a staple of New England tradition. Quahogs are large, hard-shelled clams still dug most often by rake. Clam pie is a New England dish available at any good restaurant that serves food enjoyed by the Wamponoag, the tribe that greeted the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The tribe passed on its cuisine to the Puritans and it is now American.
The clam is common in many parts of the United States and all over the world, and people love it because it tastes delicious. Clam pie is a delicacy. Most have never tried it, but if you see it on a menu it is worth sampling. Still like any pie, a clam pie is memorable or a failure.
We begin with the crust. Many a pie, has failed because of a too-buttered crust, so rich as to drown out any subtlety of flavor, or so dry it crumbles like old biscuits. A good clam pie crust is moist with hints of butter and toasting, but it is subtle. It stays the background, to the main ingredient.
Clam pie filling is a mix of chopped, large hard-shelled clams, mixed with flour, sautéed onions, potatoes, carrots and clam stock. Yes, clam stock comes in a can, but that is for amateurs. The best clam stock is made by boiling clams themselves, fresh-dug, in water with just a pinch of salt. The clams should be opened by hand. Hard-shelled clam meat is chewy, which is why smaller clams, or littlenecks as the smallest are known, and cherrystones which are next up in size but still small, are best enjoyed raw with cocktail sauce and lemon, or even better, nothing at all. Quahogs, the largest of the hard-shelled clams can be as large as a saucer, and don’t lend themselves to eating by hand. Thus we use them for pie. Each large hard-shelled clam should be opened with a knife – a skill easy to learn, but difficult to master – and laid on a platter, until you have 30 or so clam meats, good enough for a medium-sized pie. Then they can be marinated in lemon juice overnight, or better, gathered together in a cheesecake sack and pounded with a hammer. This tenderizes the meat. Baking the pie will tenderize the clam meat, but that is not sufficient to result in a soft, easy pie – which should be the goal of any pie!
Once the clams have been tenderized, they should be diced into pieces of a quarter-inch or so. These should be sautéed in a light amount of butter, until each piece is tender and fragrant enough you might want to eat it – don’t! Set the chopped clams to the side.
Next, peel and slice some potatoes into cubes of less than a half-inch.
Slice a white onion in half, then dice it into small pieces a little bit
smaller than the potato cubes. Saute the onion pieces to the point they
begin to brown, but no more than that. Cut up some carrots, into sliver
about half the size of the potato cubes and sauté them the same way.
Fill a medium-sized boiling pot, such as you’d use for cooking soup, not a flat pot but rounded up from the sides, with 10 ozs. of water. Add a half-cup of flour. Add the sautéed onions, cubed potatoes and carrot slices. Put on low heat, for now. Because now we must give time to the crust!
There are many store-bought varieties of pie crust that are perfectly good for clam pie. Any “apple-pie crust” will do. Any blueberry-pie crust will do. Because it’s important to remember, with any clam pie, with clam stock, the hero of the story is the clams. Homemade pie crust will always be best, but the best crusts are an art: see “Learning the Art of French Cooking,” by Julia Child, to learn the secrets of making homemade, flaky clam pie crust.
Continue to simmer, at medium heat, the boiling pot, stirring
occasionally and taking care to avoid burning. When a half-spoonful tastes
good to you, the filling is ready. Place filling inside the crust, taking
care to lay the top and seal the edges of the crust with a crimper. Bake at
350 degrees Fahrenheit, for 35 minutes. Clam pie is a dish you do not want
to risk, watch the top of the crust after 28 minutes to look for browning,
and not burning. When you see full browning, remove the pie from the oven.
Leave to cool, for twenty minutes. Then your clam pie, with clam stock, is
ready for anyone’s enjoyment.
Yankees may have originated the clam pie, along with the baked-beans-and-brown-bread breakfast, but it’s stayed popular for almost 400 years because it’s delicious! You may have tried steamed clams. You may enjoy cherrystones with cocktail sauce, you may love clam chowder. But the clam pie, is a delicacy not to be missed. You can’t call yourself a seafood expert until you’ve tried not just one, but enough to compare recipes. Bon appetit!|