by Allison Robicelli, Chef, and Owner of Robicelli’s
My father is not a cook. If you want to speak to a great cook, you talk to my mother. But my dad, though he’ll say he’s a cook, is not.
What my dad is, however, is one of those people with a repertoire. You’ve got that person in your family, too – someone who has a signature “famous” dish that shows up at every family gathering.
“Did you have my ‘World Famous Dip’ yet? You’re going to love it! I’ll let you in on the secret- you just mix a jar of salsa with a stick of Velveeta and microwave it, then you add my secret ingredient- Bacos!”
It’s not famous, per se. It’s the only dish they can make, so its famous to them. And they won’t shut the hell up about it.
Dad’s like that. This summer was the summer of “Papa’s Famous Chicken Wings,” which were wings tossed in adobo, grilled to the point they were nearly incinerated, then basted in hot sauce. He made them every freaking day, and each time he’d have to tell us exactly what he did, regardless of the fact that we’ve spent the past ten years making a living as professional chefs.
The good part about the wing phase was that the wings were pretty good, and you could eat them quickly. A few years back he got a bread machine, and the four of us had to put down a full loaf at every meal. It’s a testament to my husband’s character that he listened to my father reveal the mysteries of bread making to him several times a month, considering that Matt was the final boulanger at the legendary Lutece. Perhaps one day I will write a book chronicling all the various things my family members (both immediate and extended) have subjected Matt to, and it will fast-track his application for sainthood. I’ll call it: “Can You Believe This Guy Still Married Me?”
My dad has a handful of dishes. He can grill a steak that would make the boys at Luger’s weep with joy. He makes a killer “spaghetti ah-leech” (macaroni with anchovies in our bastardized Sicilian-American dialect). He’s the one who introduced me to Julia Child and taught me how to make a real honest to goodness French Chocolate Mousse when I was about 6. He’s borderline fanatical about his technique for making the perfect egg cream, and if he was 30 years younger and from North Brooklyn instead of South, that egg cream would have bloggers all over it.
One time when my mom was out of town he made tuna on Cheez-its and it was pretty goddamn good. And I have lots of great memories of being a little girl and making superlative homemade pretzels with my daddy.
Then there’s my dad’s “Famous Baked Clams.” But unlike every other “famous” dish — unlike the chicken wings, the bread machine bread, the tuna Cheez-Its — this SHOULD be famous. Whenever it’s my birthday or some occasion where I can have whatever it is I want, I ask for these, and I will greedily eat all of them without taking even a moment to consider that there may be other people at the table who not only want to eat, but don’t want to see a grown woman shoving whole clams into her mouth while grunting and squealing and licking the excess juices off her hands like they’re little fleshy clam popsicles.
I asked my father for the recipe, and I’ve attached his reply. Now it is very important for you to remember that what we’re printing is NOT my dad being funny, this is NOT satire, and this is NOT my writing. This is actually my Dyker Heights born-and-raised father, and this is actually what it sounds like when he’s giving you this recipe. And yes, all his emails are like this, too. You’d be lucky to have this guy as a pen pal.
Before I get to what my dad sent, as the actual chef in the family, I need to add a few pointers of my own. When buying clams, ask your fishmonger to open them for you and reserve the juices – there’s no reason for you to be struggling with a clam knife and probably accidentally slicing your hand open when there are pros who know how to do it quickly and safely. For breadcrumbs, it’s not a huge deal where they come from — we always had Progresso or 4C in the house, so either would work great.
If you want to make them exactly the way my dad does, the first thing you need to do is put on Goodfellas. Seriously, not joking. My dad puts Goodfellas on before he cooks anything, and it normally takes the duration of the movie for the dish to be finished. Baked clams, steaks, ramen noodles, cheese and crackers — all take 146 minutes from start to finish in our house. Also, you should be consuming an ample amount of either Coors Light or boxed red wine while attempting to cook anything. And several times during the process, you should make lots of very loud noises that sound like you’re breaking a drawer and throwing all the kitchen utensils and the wall while screaming “GODDAMNIT! WE HAVE TOO MUCH FUCKING SHIT IN THIS HOUSE!”
And if you want the absolute BEST way to eat them, you should get to know my dad and ask him to make them for you. My father is without question the coolest guy I know, and the only thing better than getting to eat these clams is getting to hang out with him. I don’t care how many times he tries to tell me how to cook, how many times I hear the same story over and over, how many times he tries to show me how the boxed wine companies are trying to screw you out of wine because of where they put the dispenser nozzles on the bag, and if you take the whole thing apart and cut open the bag you can get at least another half glass out of it, and make sure you save the dispenser nozzles for parts because you never know when you’ll need a sack of boxed wine nozzles — getting to hang out with my dad and listen to him talk about anything and everything is one of those things that every person should have on their bucket list, because very few things are as much fun as that.
These clams are the second best part of Christmas Eve. The best is being with my family. We may be batshit crazy gindaloons (our word, not yours, don’t even think about using it), but there’s no people on Earth that live and love harder than we do.
Merry Christmas, Dad. Thanks for sharing this with everyone. I’m incredibly blessed to have you for a father, and there’s not a day I’m not grateful for that.
You requested my baked clam recipe so here it is and pay close attention to detail.
PS. I don’t make BAKED Clams I make “Papa’s famous delicious broiled clams.”
Oh yea, these measurements are crude cause I build dishes by sight and taste as I go along.
Now get a bowl. NO! That’s a soup dish stupid. A 4 quart BOWL.
These measurements are for approx. 2 dozen clams.
I like small cherry stones because you could feel the clam in your mouth, there is something to chew and lot of juice. With little necks it’s like, let’s play find the clam in your mouth!
My mother, who I sorely miss, used to buy the largest clams imaginable (chowders) chop them up, mix then in with the breadcrumbs etc… Lets play find the clam in your mouth!!! When I asked why she used to use the boulders of the ocean, I got hit in the head and was told in a very loud Sicilian voice, you can feed more people stupid and you can still taste the clams!!! What do you think money grows on trees?!!
Bullshit!!!!!!! WHOLE Cherry stones. Got it?? WARNING!!! Don’t you dare use canned clams!! It won’t work. I tried it and in the garbage they went!! And if I find out, I’ll find you and smack youse but good!
That bowl, get da bowl and pour in seasoned breadcrumbs about a 1/2 bowl. If you don’t have seasoned use plain.
2 to 4 pinches of dried parsley into the breadcrumbs to taste and mix. Don’t use fresh!! BECAUSE!!
Whichever type you can afford. I use extra virgin from Italy.
Pour a little Olive oil into the breadcrumbs until they are slightly coated and are glistening a happy song.
Pecorino Romano from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Don’t youse dare use that shelved grated crap with all those preservatives!! Youse will taste the fucking preservatives and that is not my recipe. FRESH CHEESE!!!!!
Grate your own Pecorino. Start with 1 tablespoon add more to taste, I use about 4-5 tablespoons.
Get a glass pour in 12 oz. and drink it. It will stimulate your appetite and cleanse your pallet.
FRESH!!! Bash and chop a large garlic so small you will need a magnifying glass to see the pieces. Start with 1 teaspoon and add to the breadcrumb to taste. I use 6 cloves.
Put the breadcrumb mixture on the side.
Fresh Cherry Stones. RIGHT?? Open the 2 dozen and save every drop of juice in a clean bowl and put the WHOLE clam on a half shell on baking trays.
2 bottles of clam juice. Mix the fresh and bottled clam juice and strain it through a clean thin cotton handkerchief.
Get a sauce pan, coat the bottom with approx. quarter inch of olive oil, heat it slightly up and fry the remaining 2 cloves of garlic until slightly golden.
Pour in all that wonderful clam juice fresh and bottled.
Add 1 teaspoon or so of dried parsley or 2 -3 sprigs of fresh parsley if you must.
Let the sauce come to a boil then let it simmer.
Now get that breadcrumb mixture and slowly add a little clam sauce to it, a tablespoon at a time until the mixture is a little damp and pasty
DON’T MAKE MUD!!!! The mixture should stick together but fall apart when you rub it in your hand.
Lightly cover each clam with bread crumb mixture and pat down gently. Don’t suffocate the poor clam.
On each breaded clam pour about a teaspoon of the wonderful clam sauce.
Low under the broiler they go!! Until the breadcrumb tops are golden brown.
I told you they weren’t baked. SO, BITE ME!!
Place the clams on dishes, DROWN the broiled clams with the remaining sauce get that loaf of ITALIAN bread and take human bites!!!!!
Godere di papà famoso vongole!! (enjoy Papa’s famous clams!!)
Addendum: In Italian-American tradition, we have a very strict rule about never mixing cheese and fish. Yet my dad’s recipe has cheese in it. I asked him what’s up, and I got this:
“I like cheese. It’s my recipe, fuck the rules. The cheese is in the breadcrumb not on the fish so it’s like two dishes in one and since the cheese is hidden in the breadcrumbs the clams don’t know. Win win!!!
Robicelli’s cupcakes and baked goods are available at their flagship shop at DeKalb Market (332 Flatbush in Downtown Brooklyn), at the Union Square Holiday Market in Manhattan, and at shops throughout Brooklyn and beyond.