I tried out this recipe on several groups of friends (it pays to befriend a recipe developer!) and, in addition to unanimously loving the dish, a consistent comment was, "This is clams casino?" Turns out, they would have been ordering clams casino for years now if they had known what it really meant: fresh clams topped with bread crumbs and bacon, and broiled until crispy.
What they still don't know is how fast and easy it is to make. This is the reason I love making this broiled clam dish for a dinner party appetizer — it feels special, but is so very simple.
Most broiled clam recipes I've seen call for barely cooking the clams to make shucking easier, but I use an old family trick of starting with frozen clams and allowing them to pop open on their own after a 30-minute sit on the counter. I've never had any food safety issues with this method, but if you're concerned or are serving these clams to people at greater risk for food-borne illnesses, follow the FDA guidelines: Thaw the clams on a loosely covered sheet pan overnight in the fridge. The next day, your clams will have popped open and you can continue preparing the recipe as written.
I like to use larger top neck clams for this dish, which I slice in half. Not only does this make the clams less chewy, but I also get double the portions. This is another place where using frozen clams makes life easier — after the clams pop open, the still-frozen meat inside is much easier to slice cleanly.
The combination of bacon and clams is knock-your-socks-off delicious. At first bite, you get hit with the crispy, smoky pork, but after a second or two, the clam's ocean-flavored glory comes through. The bread crumbs soak up the clam juices and bacon grease, so make sure to spoon up any of those precious crumbles that may have spilled out of the shell.
frozen top neck clams (roughly 3 pounds), scrubbed
finely chopped red bell pepper (about 1/2 small pepper)
finely chopped yellow onion (about 1/2 an onion)
dry bread crumbs
finely chopped fresh parsley
Place the frozen clams on a rimmed baking sheet on the counter until they start to open, about 30 minutes (see Recipe Note regarding food safety). Use your hands to fully open and separate the shell halves. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the still-frozen clam meat from the shell, and then cut the meat in half. Place one half on each half shell. Drain the liquid off the baking sheet or move the clams to a clean baking sheet. Let the clams continue thawing on the counter while you prepare the topping, or you can let them finish thawing overnight in the fridge (loosely covered).
In a large skillet over low heat, cook the bacon until just starting to brown, but before it becomes crispy. Work in batches as needed and transfer to a plate. Once cooled, crumble the bacon. Drain 1/4 cup bacon grease into a measuring cup; discard the remaining bacon fat or save for another use.
Return the 1/4 cup grease to the skillet and increase the heat to medium. Add the onion, pepper, and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent and the peppers are very soft, about 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, crumbled bacon, and sautéed vegetables. Divide the bread crumb mixture among the clams, pressing it into a compact mound on top of each.
Place an oven rack on the second-highest position and turn on the broiler. Broil the clams on the baking sheet until the bread crumbs are browned, the bacon is crispy, and clams are just cooked, 3 to 5 minutes. Use tongs to transfer to a serving platter, and serve immediately.
Food safety note: I've never had any food safety issues with thawing clams on the counter and cooking them right away, but if you're concerned or are serving these clams to people at greater risk for food-borne illnesses, follow the FDA guidelines: Thaw the clams on a loosely-covered sheet pan overnight in the fridge. The next day, your clams will have popped open and you can continue preparing the recipe as written.
Make-ahead clams casino: The clams can be thawed and topped ahead of time and broiled when guests arrive.
Do not cook the bacon until crispy. You want to get it partially cooked and render out some of the fat, but the rest of the crisping up will take place during the broil.
You can use cherry stone or little neck clams instead of top necks, just use twice as many, skip cutting the clam in half, and discard half the shells. Learn more about clam sizing here.
Don't like clams? This recipe is delicious with oysters, too.