Here is another quirky Rhode Island recipe. The International Quahog Festival was held in Wickford every July from 1982 to the late 1990s. Thousands of people found their way to this quiet bayside community to pay homage to the humble quahog. This hard-shelled clam is devoured in all manner of recipes—in chowders that have red, white, or clear broth; in clam cakes; in garlicky pasta dishes; and, most importantly, in stuffed quahogs, also known as “stuffies.” A contest was always held to determine who made the best stuffed quahogs. Here is the winning recipe from the 1990 competition. The secret to making really good stuffies is to mince the onion and peppers very finely. For the hot sauce, many Rhode Island cooks prefer to use Rhode Island Red, a product made locally by Chef Linda Kane. Her “sauce with an attitude” is popular because its sweet heat does not overpower the food it seasons.
A quahog is a shelled hard clam, which is native to the eastern shores of North America, from Prince Edward Island to theYucatán Peninsula. The quahog is the official shellfish of the U.S. state of Rhode Island.
Stuffies (Stuffed Quahogs)
Makes sixteen stuffies
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 Tbs butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
¼ tsp dried oregano
About 4 tsp grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Additional butter, melted, as needed for moistening
Clam juice, as needed for moistening
Lemon wedges and hot pepper sauce, as needed for moistening
To facilitate the opening of the quahogs, place the well-scrubbed clams in a pan in a moderate (350-degree) oven and heat until they open. Discard any that do not open. When cool enough to handle, remove the quahogs from their shells. Pour the liquid left in each clamshell into a bowl. Set aside the clamshells and clam juice. Poach the quahogs for three minutes in simmering water. Chop the quahogs into pieces.
In a large frying pan, sauté the onion and peppers in the butter until translucent. Add the garlic and cook over low heat another one to two minutes. Stir in the chopped quahogs, an equal amount of fresh bread crumbs, and the oregano. Add about ½ teaspoon grated cheese per clam. Moisten with additional melted butter and/or clam juice.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Separate the clamshells. Mound the stuffing into each clamshell half, and place them on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven until hot and slightly browned, approximately twenty minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and hot pepper sauce.
Tip: Part of the secret to making good stuffies is to mince the vegetables (onion, celery, pepper) very finely. They should barely be recognizable in the mix.