Rhody Classics: Clams Casino

Learn about the Rhode Island-born dish. Plus, a recipe from Matunuck Oyster Bar.
Photography by Angel Tucker.


Digging up the dish’s history with a recipe from Matunuck Oyster Bar.

The origins of clams casino are debatable, but theory suggests that the dish was first introduced at the Narragansett Pier Casino. According to Kate Vivian, coordinator at the Towers, then-chef Julius Keller cited in his 1939 memoir, Inns and Outs, that he prepared the clams with stuffing and bacon for a private luncheon when resort guest Mrs. Paran Stevens requested a special clam dish. If there was any type of early documentation, it may have been destroyed when the Narragansett resort burned down on September 12, 1900, where the trademark granite Towers remain today.

Matunuck Oyster Bar serves a traditional Clams Casino using only native clams. Executive chef Jeff Cruff prefers top necks but littlenecks work, too. “My theory on doing these dishes is I don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” Cruff says. “The trick is consistency. It could be crumbly, it could be gooey, it could be sticky; the key is getting the right combination of ingredients because there’s moisture left in the clams and that will be absorbed.”

Besides the bacon, a key flavor comes from the liquor inside the clam shells. “When you shuck the clams, whatever juice is left from shucking goes right into the stuffing,” he says. 629 Succotash Rd., South Kingstown, 783-4202, rhodyoysters.com

Matunuck Oyster Bar Clams Casino
3–4 dozen littlenecks
2 cups small diced bacon (as small as you can cut it. Freezing the slices slightly will help make this process easier)
8 oz unsalted butter
½ Tbsp minced garlic
¼ cup minced shallots
1 cup small diced green peppers (no seeds and no white pith)
1 cup small diced red peppers (no seeds and no white pith)
2 oz dry sherry (any brand will do, but don’t use cooking sherry)
2 Tbsp chopped Italian parsley
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp Tabasco sauce (or more if you like)
Salt and pepper to taste (approx. 1 Tbsp salt)
Juice left from shucking the clams
1 cup plain unseasoned bread crumbs
4 cups crushed Ritz crackers
Extra bacon to top the finished clams

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Wash and then shuck clams over a cookie sheet to catch the juice and set aside any juice. Put the clams on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil and refrigerate until needed.
Add the bacon and butter to a heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring often for 8–10 minutes or until you have rendered the fat from the bacon.

Add the garlic, shallots and both peppers to the bacon mixture and cook over medium heat until the peppers begin to soften, 6–8 minutes.

Add the sherry, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, Tabasco, salt, pepper and any clam juice. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Leave the mixture in the pan, set it aside to cool slightly.

Once the mixture cools, add the plain bread crumbs and half of the Ritz crackers and mix to combine. Add enough of the remaining crushed crackers to achieve the correct consistency. It should be moist and not crumbly, but it should not be wet and pasty. Once cooled, fill the clams with the stuffing, as much as desired, and top with a small slice of extra bacon.

Bake at 425 degrees for 8–12 minutes or until hot and toasted. Serve with lemon and Tabasco.