Sunday, July 01, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Rhode Island II - It's Gettin' Stuffie in Here...

Clams - they're big in New England, and are arguably the most characteristic of New England seafoods (more than lobster, which we outsiders mostly identify with Maine and Massachusetts, no?).  Technically, we are talking about quahogs (pronounced QUAH-hogs, QUAW-hogs or most often CO-hogs for those of us outside of New England).  In the so-far eleven New England recipes I have interpreted (not counting this one), two have been clam-related recipes, both chowders.  Here's a non-chowder recipe for clam lovers everywhere.

Official Name: State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
State Nicknames: The Ocean State, Little Rhody
Admission to the US: May 29, 1790 (#13)
Capital: Providence (largest)
Other Important Cities: Warwick (2nd largest), Cranston (3rd largest), Pawtucket (4th largest)
Region: Northeast, New England; New England (US Census)
RAFT NationsClambake
Bordered by: Connecticut (west), Massachusetts (north and east), Block Island Sound, Rhode Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean (south)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: coffee milk (drink); quahog (shell - the quahog clam is widely eaten in the state); red maple (tree - for the sap); Rhode Island greening apple (fruit); Rhode Island red chicken (bird); striped bass (fish), violet (flower, though Rhode Islanders don't typically eat them),
Some Famous and Typical Foods: johnny cakes, coffee milk, stuffies & New York system dogs; Portuguese cuisine (caldo verde, linguiça, chouriço, bacalhau, etc); Italian cuisine

Of course, Rhode Island has its own spin on clam chowder - part and parcel of the clear southern New England variety that we saw back in Connecticut. Though Wikipedia - and again, this is Wikipedia - suggests that some Rhode Islanders prefer a tomato broth based chowder.  This is not the dreaded Manhattan version, since there are no tomato chunks.  Charlie at the East Coast Gourmet blog [2009] notes this difference, and gives a Rhode Island red clam chowder recipe at his site

But again, New England's clam cuisine does not just mean "chowder".  Looking at Rhode Island alone we can get an idea of the different ways to prepare them.  In her New England Clam Shack Cookbook [2008], the cookbook I often go back to for these New England recipes, Brooke Dojny mentions clam cakes, fried clams and stuffies - none confined to Rhode Island, but all popular there.  These last things are particularly notable in Rhode Island, the only state where they actually call them "stuffies"..  Johnette Rodriquez for Yankee Magazine [2011] writes about the variety, the history and purpose (to stretch your clam dollar and give fishermen some much-needed carbs), the preparation and some of the notable places to find them.  And of course, there is no one way to make these things:
To make stuffies, you first shuck the quahogs, capture their juice, and add some extra clam juice to moisten the bread cubes or cracker crumbs. Some stuffie cooks add chopped onion, celery, and sweet or hot peppers; some spice the mix like Thanksgiving stuffing; others make a Portuguese stew, complete with chourico. Still others swear that a true stuffie should taste only like chopped quahogs and clam-juice-soaked bread--just add your own hot sauce or lemon juice on top. One old-timer, who once made thousands of stuffies by hand at his Warwick fish market years ago, used to say, "Putting sausage in a stuffie is like putting raisins in meatballs." So there you have it--something for every taste, simple to spicy. [Rodriguez 2011]
Said old-timer would not like the version I made, from Saveur, which doesn't just use sausage but the
Portuguese linguiça sausage.  Perhaps this is very typically New England-y, since New England has the heaviest concentration of Portuguese-Americans (or Luso-Americans) in the United States.  You can see this on Cape Cod, as I did for my friends' wedding in Provincetown last year: there was a definite presence of Portuguese food and community there.  The same is true for Rhode Island, and so a stuffie filled with linguiça would not be a strange thing to find in the Ocean State.

The Recipe: Linguiça Stuffies

To make Saveur's Portuguese sausage stuffies (which they base on a recipe from Brooke Dojny's New England Clam Shack Cookbook), you will need the following:

* clams, preferably quahogs (note that in one definition of the term, "quahog" means any whole clam regardless of the size.  But from a technical standpoint only the biggest ones are labelled "quahogs".  The smaller ones have different names, according to Emma Christensen at [2008]: little neck clams are the tiniest, followed by cherry stones, top necks and actual quahog quahogs, the biggest of them all.  I wound up buying eight cherry stone clams from Harris Teeter, for 49¢ each, about $4 total).
* clam liquor / juice (this came with the clams, free of charge)
* reserved clam shells (these also came with the clams. These are the things you will be stuffing.  Wash them and use them.)
* slices white bread (I had bread crumbs, but in this case I went ahead and ground these to make bread crumbs)
* celery (this time I found it economical to get chopped celery from the Harris Teeter salad bar, about $1-ish worth from a typically $7.99 ler lb salad bar.  I always buy a bunch of celery and three months later there it is, sitting in the vegetable crisper, barely edible.  This way I didn't waste any celery)
* onion (had it)
* garlic (same)
* green pepper (one was less than $1, for $2 per lb)
* parsley (growing on my porch)
linguiça (about $4.50 for a pound package.  Gaspar's brand, the one I found, is made in Dartmouth, Massachusetts)
* olive oil (had it but am running low.  Time to replenish soon)
* Tabasco (had it)
* Worcestershire sauce (same)
* lemon juice (yes the recipe calls for fresh, and no, I used the bottle from my fridge.  Deal with it.)
* butter (had it)

First you need to shuck these clams.  I found this to be easier than shucking oysters, on which it is more difficult to find a suitable point from which to begin shucking.  It's a more straightforward process with clams.  First you hold the bottom of the clam in a towel in the meat of the palm of your hand..

You may need to rotate the clam a little bit but find a place near the hinge to insert your oyster or clam knife.

Force the knife along the edge, and aim the clam over a bowl to catch the liquor.  This was not a happy clam.  Take your knife (or a knife not covered with clam shell bits) to slice off as much of the muscle as possible.  Reserve all the liquid.  I used my hand to strain out the shell bits from the liquor.  You typically should rinse off and scrub the clams to get rid of any grit, but Harris Teeter, apparently, had done that already.

Make sure you save those clam shells.  And hold on to all of them.  The recipe led me to believe I would only need half of the shells but I used every half of every bivalve.

Did I mention that you need to clean off the clam shells too?

On to the rest of the recipe.  Tear up your soft bread and pulse it in your food processor.

Spread the bread crumbs over a cookie sheet and toast in a 275° oven for about 15 to 20 minutes.  When done, take them out and turn up the heat to 425°.

While those are toasting in the oven, chop up your vegetables (I used my fine onion dicer) and your linguiça, first by removing it from its casing and rough chopping the meat...

...and then by throwing it into your food processor for about half a minute.

Add olive oil to a large pan (here my cast iron skillet), and then add your vegetables and linguiça and cook for about 15 minutes.

Chop the clams and add them and the clam liquor to the pan.

Then add the parsley...

...Tabasco, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce...

...the butter...

...and your bread crumbs.  Stir (really fold) until all the liquid is absorbed and you have kind of a stuffing (in fact, this really is a clam and linguiça stuffing if you think about.  You're just using it to stuff clam shells).

Stuff each half shell with your stuffie stuffing (say that five times fast)

Stick these things in the your 425° oven for about 20 minutes.

And here is your final result!

These things are addictive!  They could have tasted more clammy. This is probably on me though, because I didn't add any extra clam liquor - most recipes suggest this, and the recipe called for a larger quantity than I had on hand (plus, I didn't want to spend the extra money on more clam juice).  But overall I was very satisfied with the results: the meaty clams, salty and savory linguiça, and the soft vegetables all wedged into the crispy breading all make for a wonderful eating experience. Carb-alicious, I tells ya!  I have a confession: I've always been a stuffing / dressing junkie, so I love just about anything in that food family.  The stuffie is a new favorite in that category.

- - - - -

We're heading way down I-95 now, leaving the home of dyed-in-the-wool Swamp Yankees for the land of equally hearty Lowcountry folks.  We're taking a 180 degree turn from Rhode Island to South Carolina next.

Sources: (user "About"). "How to Make Johnnycakes". Narrated by John Mitzewich for Posted December 5, 2010.

Christensen, Emma. "What's the Difference? Little Neck, Cherry Stone, Top Neck, and Quahog Clams". Posted September 2, 2008. Copyright All rights reserved.

East Coast Gourmet ("Charlie").  "Rhode Island Rocky Point Chowder".  Posted May 14, 2009.  Copyright 2008-2012 The East Coast Gourmet.  All rights reserved.

Dojny, Brooke. The New England Clam Shack Cookbook. 2nd edition. Storey Publishing: North Adams, MA, 2008.  "Cuisine".  Date unknown.  Copyright 1999–2012, "with the exception of elements provided by contributors, as noted".

Rodriguez, Johnette.  "Rhode Island Food Trail: Stuffies".  Yankee Magazine, May/June 2011.  "Stuffies". Saveur, August/September 2005 (Issue 104).

Wellner, Alison.  "Rhode Island's 'New York System' Weiners or 'Gaggers'".  Date unknown  Copyright 2012  All rights reserved.  "Johnnycakes".  Date unknown.  Copyright 2012 Yankee Magazine.  All rights reserved.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Rhode Island" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Rhode Island".