Fresh Fish, Broken Back
The quest for fresh fish on my last-gasp-of-summer beach vacation (sigh!) last week was long and arduous. I've completely given up on the idea of getting a fresh fried fish sandwich on or anywhere near Block Island. Yes, I may get a hunk of fresh Block Island swordfish or striped bass (some of the best around), but there's no guarantee that it's going to be cooked properly. Plus, it's much too pricey for my kind of vacation.
For just $11 I could have gotten a nonresident shellfish license, good for 14 days, for clam digging. But, luckily, my father-in-law has a permanent-resident shellfish license, which allows any relative under the age of 18 to shellfish for free. (Believe me, the game warden checks religiously.) Luckier still, my kids were actually eager to get digging.
Since it was the end of the season, many of the beds had been clammed out. There were lots of tiny clams (always a good sign that people are respecting the size limits), but we (the kids) found about two dozen littlenecks and a few cherrystones—not really enough to steam in beer and butter, but plenty to shuck and bake. Here's a simple recipe for my most satisfying fish experience on Block Island.
Baked Stuffed Block Island Clams
2 dozen littleneck clams, shucked, shells rinsed and reserved
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 1/4 cups panko bread crumbs
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 36 small cubes
Briefly rinse the clams to remove any bits of shell. Coarsely chop the clams and divide them between 36 of the half-shells. You'll have 12 left over. Transfer to a large baking sheet. In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, parsley, bread crumbs and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season very lightly with salt and pepper. Stir until the mixture resembles moist sand; if necessary, add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Spoon the mixture over the clams, pressing lightly. Top each with a small cube of butter. Bake at 375° near the top of the oven until the crumbs are sizzling and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.