½ pound butter, unsalted
½ cup white wine
36 littleneck clams
2 lemons, cut in half
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste (white pepper is best if you have it)
1. Combine the butter and clams in a shallow baking pan that can hold all of the clams and withstand low heat on your grill.
2. Wash the clams well to remove sand and excess dirt.
3. Approach the grill: You should have your tongs, your pan containing the butter and wine, a serving platter, and another large platter containing the clams, lemons, parsley and salt and pepper. Some particular attention should be paid to the fire for this preparation. You want to have half your fire medium-high heat, and the other half medium-low.
4. Place the pan with the butter and wine in it on the low-heat side of the grill, and place the clams on the rack on the high-heat side.
5. The clams will open when cooked. This should take about 8 to 11 minutes, depending on your fire.
6. As the clams open, place them in the butter-wine mixture. When all the clams have opened, place them on a serving platter, squeeze the lemon halves over them and sprinkle them with parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
Recipe courtesy of The Thrill of the Grill by Christopher Schlesinger and John Willoughby, Chronical Books, 1996.
When Chris Schlesinger wrote his first cookbook on grilling, The Thrill of the Grill by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, he included this recipe from his good friend and fellow chef Steve Johnson. Steve was a caterer at that time, and this was one of his favorite dishes because it never failed to attract an audience while he was at the grill making Clams Johnson. When people saw the clams sitting in the broth they would of course want to try one and he would offer.
You can make the presentation a little more elegant if you wish, by serving on a fancier plate or removing the clams from the shells. What is most important, however, is that when you are standing at the grill and making the dish, be ready to offer anybody who wanders over a clam because it is hard to look at these and not want to try one.
Chris and Steve have reunited in this video to make Clams Johnson, but the exact recipe from Steve seems to have evolved over the years. We can show you the original recipe and in this video you can see how it has changed.
Hey Steve, this dish looks familiar. What are you cooking here?
I'm doing a dish of grilled clams and a chunky, aromatic broth.
And what exactly is in the broth?
I put some olive oil, white wine, sliced fennel, garlic, onion, some fresh herbs, a little bit of chunky tomato, capers, and lemon. Got some littleneck clams. These are small versions of hard-shell clams, abundant on the New England coast.
We simply scrub them carefully and then put them on the grill, a medium-hot charcoal grill. And wait for them to pop open as they cook. We pop them into the broth.
They benefit from the flavorings in the broth. And then, in turn, the broth ends up benefiting from the juices that come out of the cooked clams.
We got a two-level fire grill here. This is the one side, it's got the coals on it. And the other side with the broth is off the fire a little bit.
That's right. The main part of the fire is over here. And yet, as you can see from the simmering broth, it's still relatively warm on the cool side of the fire.
Right. Now, a lot of people think grilling seafood is hard. But this is certainly on the beginning end if you want to start grilling seafood. Clams, oysters, or mussels are great to grill. We do a dish where we shuck open oysters and put the oysters down on the grill with a little barbecue sauce on them.
And if you're grilling at home-- you got a small group of people at your house on the weekends-- this is a really great starter dish to use because the prep can be done ahead of time. And once you're really ready to go, it only takes about 10 minutes from beginning to end to have your finished clams ready for consumption. And it's also really convivial because we're standing around the grill. Your guests might be starting to arrive and you're offering them a beer or a glass of rose or something like that. Chances are, they're going to come over to the grill to see what's going on.
They just open up when the steam inside them builds up. And then it opens the valve.
And there you can see, the really nicely grilled clam. As soon as it pops open, it's cooked. And yet, it's still nice and moist. The belly's swollen up, big and plump on the inside.
And once it sits in the broth for a sec, and benefits from the flavor of the broth, your guests can come over and burn their fingers by reaching in there and grabbing one that they find appetizing. And start to eat them. Saves on clean up because then you don't have to worry about messing up your fancy platters and all that type of thing.
Always, when you get clams, make sure that they're closed when you buy them. You want good, fresh seafood. So if a clam is open prior to cooking you want to throw it out. And sometimes if a clam's bad, it also won't open. So you want to make sure and discard any of those. Where are these from Steve?
You can always give them the smell check too, you know? If you've got a sense that you might have a bad clam you can give it a whiff, make sure it's not off putting. These clams I bought from my friend Pat Woodbury, who's out in Wellfleet.
He's one of the leading aquaculture guys out in Wellfleet. He's a clam and oyster guy. And very popular among Boston restaurants and beyond. I think he sells in New York and Chicago.
Now these are a great size for grilling. When they're a little bit smaller they're count necks. And one size up is cherry stones. At then when you get to the big ones they call them-- how do you pronounce?
Quahogs. Yeah, the really big chowder clams. But these are perfect for--
The count necks are a little smaller. The shells are a little thinner, younger clams. And they tend to be a little brittle for grilling. They might shatter from the heat.
And then the Quahogs are a little bit bigger, and a more mature beast. They tend to be a little bit more chewy. So this is the sweet spot on these two-inch clams here. I got one that looks like it doesn't want to open.
Yeah, example of a bad clam.
Going to give Pat a call and get my money back.
Yeah, get a refund.
Anyway, you want to try one Chris?
I'd love to. Let me see if I can get one without-- let me have the tongs here, because it's going to burn me. I'll get it in the juice.
I thought you had fingertips of steel?
Yeah, I do kind of, but-- you go ahead and eat one.