For some reason, summertime makes me crave fish and shellfish. Maybe it brings back childhood memories of summers I spent by the sea in Massachusetts, or perhaps it’s because fish and shellfish seem to be a lighter meal than pork, beef or chicken. I love to cook up a big batch of stuffed quahogs when we have people over for summer picnics. They are easy to prepare in advance and heat up right before serving. My recipe gives the directions for making stuffed quahogs in the oven, but if it’s a scorching hot summer day, you might want to do all the work on the grill – so alternate directions for grilling are also given. Since all the ingredients are fully cooked before combining, you just need to heat and meld the flavors before serving – nice and simple!
I have many happy memories of going clam digging off the Massachusetts and Rhode Island coasts; we rarely had to actually purchase clams. In fish markets you will often see special names for the different sizes of hard shelled clam. You’ll find the smaller “littlenecks” or “cherrystones” and the larger “quahogs” or “chowder clams.”
The word "quahog" (pronounced KO-HOG) comes from the Narragansett Native American word "poquauhock" - I can’t even venture a guess on how to pronounce that! New England Native Americans made valuable beads called "wampum" from the shells, especially with inner shells that were colored purple. Coastal New Englanders still refer to them as quahogs - although you might see them sold in Berkshire markets simply labeled as clams.
30 large quahogs
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
½ large sweet Vidalia onion, diced
3 celery ribs, de-stringed and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 pound Portuguese chorizo sausage, peel removed and diced
½ loaf bread, crusts removed, torn into large pieces (I like to use a combination of whole wheat bread and English muffin bread loaf – if you can find it)
Lemon wedges, Tabasco sauce and crushed red pepper, for serving
Preheat oven to 400 degrees (or preheat your grill).
Scrub the shell of the quahog with a brush to remove any dirt or grit. Discard any quahogs that are open or that have cracked shells.
Place the quahogs in a 9” by 13” baking dish and bake until the quahogs open – this will only take a few minutes. Let then quahogs get cool enough to handle, then remove the quahog meat from the shells. Separately reserve any juice the quahogs have released. (If you don’t want to heat up your oven, place the quahogs on a large sheet of heavy duty foil, and grill them on high just until the quahogs open. Be careful to catch the juices when you remove them from the grill.)
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees (or lower the heat on your grill to medium).
In a frying pan, place 2 tablespoons oil, and heat until shimmering. Sauté the onion, celery and red pepper until soft, remove from pan and set aside in a large bowl.
In the same frying pan, add about 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté the crumbed chorizo meat until it is cooked through. Add the chorizo meat to the bowl with the onion mixture.
Coarsely chop the quahog meat and add to the bowl. Add the bread and stir well to combine. Add the reserved quahog juice (or water), a little at a time, to the mixture until it is moist and holds together well.
Place a heaping mound of the mixture into a quahog shell. You will have enough to stuff about 24 quahogs. Place the quahogs, stuffing-side-up on a baking sheet.
Sprinkle some paprika on each stuffed quahog, and bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. (Alternatively, place the quahogs directly on the grill and cook them with the grill covered, for about 5-10 minutes.)
Serve with lemon wedges and some Tabasco sauce or crushed red pepper if you like your food a bit spicier.