New England Clam Stuffie Dressing

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell

Here’s a “gourmet” stuffed clam (“stuffie”) from the Stop & Shop fish counter in Wyoming, RI. Exactly the same as the Charlestown Mini-Super’s. There’s got to be a stuffie factory supplying the area. The shocker? They’re really good and no way a cop-out for not making your own. The toaster oven hot stuffie may be the best appetizer/first course/cocktail snack of all time. The perfect match for an icy martini or a glass of cold white wine. 

The more time I spend in Rhode Island, the more common ground I find between the foods there and the southern staples here in Nashville. Both places have a frugal food tradition of using up what’s handy like stale, leftover bread. 

Up there, it’s Italian bread in clam stuffies. Down here, it’s skillet cornbread in dressing.

The clam stuffie is a bready mix of chopped clams, celery, onions, peppers, parsley, lemon, garlic, and at times, Portuguese sausage, baked in a big quahog clam shell. Sounds great doesn’t it? A personal stuffie is the most perfect opener for dinner or quick toaster oven meal in itself. And the best part is that the stuffie is not confined to being a side dish to a roast chicken or for Thanksgiving. We eat stuffies all the time and between bites our conversations always start sounding like Peter Griffin and his pals at the Drunken Clam.

Down here in Nashville, Southern Cornbread Dressing rules the table. Lots of folks in the South have grown up on Sunday chicken and dressing. The dressing is usually a nice mix of crumbled leftover cornbread softened with some white bread or leftover biscuits, celery, onion, sage, chicken broth…you get the picture. Home cooks are most likely to cook dressing separately in a big casserole, not in the bird. I guess that’s why we call it dressing and not stuffing. 

I’m all for that for two reasons.  One, you finally get enough dressing to eat. Two, the dressing has a nice crisp top. Believe me, I’ll never stuff again.One Thanksgiving in Nashville, R.B. and I combined the two traditions and made stuffie dressing. It was a super hit. Instead of using individual clam shells we baked a big pan of the clam dressing and served it with the turkey.

To make New England Clam Stuffie Dressing use the bread you have lying around–I think we used a mixture of white and cornbread. Add the usual liberal amount of sauteed celery, onions, bell pepper, and parsley. Add a generous amount of chopped clams with their juice and a shot of lemon juice. Moisten it all with some water if it seems too dry. Put it in a big buttered casserole. Dot the top with butter and sprinkle with paprika. Bake in the oven until crispy and well browned. Forget Thanksgiving. We should serve squares of clam dressing with icy martinis.

Sad to report, like most everything else, stuffies have shrunk in the new economy.

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