Making Clams Casino Is A Messy Gamble But It's Worth The Reward

On paper, clams casino should work flawlessly. You have clams, bacon, bread crumbs, peppers, butter, cheese, shallots, wine, and Worcestershire sauce, all brought together in a flavorful broiled half-shell. Done correctly, clams casino are beautifully savory and succulent. Done wrong, they're just a mess. However, it is a messy gamble that is well worth the reward, because the flavor you can get is absolutely unbelievable.

In Italian, the word "casino" is roughly translated as "a mess." Looking at finished clams casino, you would concede to the translation. It's a bunch of ingredients forced into the half-shell of a small clam. Not only can this end up being visually unappealing, but it can also be a downright casino to prepare. Shucking clams is just a naturally messy process, and their juice is going to get everywhere. That's not to mention the stuffing process, which is difficult to do cleanly.

Then there is the bacon and butter you have to deal with. While these fatty ingredients give clams casino so much flavor, they can also easily turn into a greasy mess. If you don't want clams casino to live up too much to their messy name, follow a few simple tips for cleaner prep and great flavor. 

Getting clams casino right

Clams casino are said to be the invention one Jules Kenner of the Narragansett Bay Casino in Rhode Island. Not to be confused with the far larger "stuffies"  — Rhode Island slang for large stuffed clam — clams casino are made with bite-sized littleneck clams. A classic of the New England coast, clams casino, when done correctly, have a flavor that is at once briny, sweet, and savory, with a chewy and crunchy texture. It is a wonderfully complex mouthful.

One of the tricks to a cleaner prep is to pre-steam your clams instead of shucking them while still raw. Not only will they open far more easily, but they will release all their juices right into the cooking pot. This reduces the likelihood that your breadcrumb toppings will become soggy later when you broil the clams.

It is also important not to use too fine a breadcrumb. Too fine a crumb will absorb too much liquid and become stodgy. Coarse bread crumbs, like panko, retain their crispiness while also absorbing flavor. Once all the components are layered into the shells and broiled together, the result should be a fatty mouthful of crisp panko giving way to a wonderfully smokey, briny, chewy clam finish that is bound to have you reaching for seconds.