It’s Seafood Friday again, and today we’re going back East to Rhode Island and making Portuguese stuffed quahogs, AKA “stuffies.”
But before you stuff ’em, you gotta know what the heck they are.
Quahogs are big hardshell clams. When we were kids, we used to collect the shells on the rocky shores of the Sakonnett River and see who could find the biggest. Some of them were the size of your hand, including fingers. Those we’d bring home and give to our parents to use as ashtrays. (Didn’t everyone who lived by the water have quahog shell ashtrays back then?) This, of course, was back when it was cool to smoke.
Since this is the kind of thing you gotta see to understand, I went online and found a great video of a cute old Portuguese lady making them almost the same way my old Portuguese aunts used to. There’s a funny story about one of my old Portuguese aunts stealing the coveted stuffy recipe from another of my old Portuguese aunts when she was drunk, but that’s a story for another day.* The cute old Portuguese lady in the video is (lucky for her) not related to us.
I make mine with chourico instead of linguica, and instead of the sage, thyme, and allspice I use a couple teaspoons of hot red pepper flakes. But I imagine it’s good either way (chourico and linguica are Portuguese sausages. Chourico is spicy and linguica is mild).
If you can’t get Portuguese chourico where you live (I sure can’t. I have to special order it from Gaspar’s) you can use Mexican chourizo, but it’s different. And if the person at the fish counter doesn’t know what quahogs are, the smaller hardshell clams will do in a pinch–you’ll just need a lot more. Whichever size you get, don’t forget to scrub the shells well with a stiff brush before you boil them, becuase you’ll be saving the water to use in the recipe.
* OK, here’s the story. My Aunt Helen was an awesome cook and made awesome stuffies. My Aunt Annie made potatoes out of a box, but she looked like Jackie O and wore a rock the size of Aquidneck Island. They lived two houses down from eachohter right on the water of the above described Sakonnett River. One day when my mom and I (I was a teenager) had dropped by Anunt Annie’s for coffee, we were talking about stuffies and wishing we had Aunt Helen’s recipe. But Aunt Helen never gave *anyone* her recipes, least of all Aunt Annie, because they really didn’t like eachother very much.
Helen used to have this little… problem. You know, with the liquor. Which was probably why we hadn’t had stuffies in a while and were growing desperate. Anyway, Aunt Annie gets up, wearing a pair of cotton pajamas held together with safety pins (yes, in the middle of the day. She only looked like Jackie O when she went out) and says, “I’m going to get that recipe if it kills me.”
My mom and I laugh, and sit back and take another sip of our coffee. Then, Aunt Annie walks out the back door, pajamas and all.
Mom and I look at each other. Is she crazy?
Fifteen minutes later, Aunt Annie runs back in, pajama pants flapping, a look of terror on her face, and slams the door behind her and bolts it. Then she runs to the front door and slams and bolts that. She runs back to the other side of hte little beach house and pulls back the curtains to peek out the window.
After a few minutes, she sits down and lights a cigarette and tosses the match in the crystal ashtray. (Quahog shells were only for the porch at Jackie O’s). Then she pulls a paper out of the little breast pocket of her pajama top. And her face absolutely erupts in triumph. “I got it!”
She tosses it down on the table. And my mom and I scrabble to pick it up. I win.
Sure enough, it’s a worn slip of paper, grease stained and covered in specks of dried on… junk. And it says at the top, “Stuffies” in Aunt Helen’s sloppy but perfectly-formed Catholic school cursive.
My mom looks like Aunt Annie just tossed Helen’s decaptated head onto the table instead of a recipe. “How the hell did you get that?”
“I went around looking in the windows to see where she was, and she was passed out at the kitchen table. So I just went in, and that damn dog started barking and woke her up just as I was standing there in the doorway. Helen just lifted her head and shouted, “Lady! Go lay down!” and then fell back to sleep. So I petted the damn dog and flipped through all her cookbooks and there it was, right inside the front of one.”
“You actually dug through her cookbooks while she was sitting right there?”
Now Aunt Annie is laughing hysterically with the after-adrenaline come-down. “I thought I was gonna wet my pants. If she ever woke up and caught me in that kitchen…”
“In your pajamas,” I add, becuase that was the funniest part of the story to a fifteen year old.
“…she’s have stabbed me to death.”
Aunt Helen wasn’t what you’d call a Happy Drunk.
“So, who’s making the stuffies tonight?” I ask. My mom and Aunt Annie look at eachother. The Pope would sooner show up and scrub and steam quahogs than either of those two.
“And what are you gonna do the next time she goes to make stuffies and can’t find the recipe?”
Now Aunt Annie looks like it’s her severed head on the table, and Aunt Helen standing over her with the cleaver. “Oh, shit.”
To this day, we still don’t know what helen did when she noticed it was gone. But Aunt Annie lived to a ripe old age.
But oddly enough, even though we made copies at Aunt Annie’s that day, neither my mom nor I still have a copy of that recipe. It may be a job for Ghost Hunters.