A “stuffy,” just in case you don’t know, is the Rhode Island term of art for a baked stuffed clam, although I can vouch for its use as far north as southern Massachusetts. Typically, buttered and seasoned breadcrumbs do-si-do with chopped clam, usually but not always) atop a quahog on the half-shell and baked. It’s a filling, poor man’s seafood treat, which is not to denigrate it, just to note that it may not be the place to go if you’re looking to sate your bivalve love. Jody’s stuffy climbs up a notch on the menu, subbing lobster for clams, and adding andouille sausage and green pepper for a Cajun twist. Lobster-Andouille Stuffy – the stuffy for our times.
With the exception of our annual family lobster orgy every summer on Cape Cod, I rarely eat lobster as a main course. On those rare occasions I not only have to be hungry, I have to be hungry for something rich. A few times a year is enough. But as an appetizer, mixed with other good things, I like it a lot. Old school French menus used to feature first courses like “Vol-au-Vent of Lobster and Sweetbreads;” that is, a small puff-pastry cup with pieces of lobster and sweetbreads aswim in a cream sauce flavored with lobster stock, cognac and morels. I’m the guy who ordered that. I’d order it now. And then I’d order a duck for my main course.
Against that context these stuffies are light. Lobster meat will take you a long way down the river as an ingredient, especially if you’re only traveling as far as appetizers. We portioned less than 2 ounces of lobster meat per person. Believe me, that’s enough. Most people won’t want more than that for a starter and a lot of people may want less. Which is how it should be. A taste of luxury, rather than an avalanche. And with the culinary revenants of Holidays Past hovering about, each awaiting to descend on festive tables over the next two weeks, who would want more? Remember, you can always serve it in puff pastry shells. Enjoy. Ken
Makes 4 appetizer servings
- 1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 2 tablespoons red onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
- ½ cup milk, at room temperature
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ cup green pepper, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
- Minced chili pepper—the amount you use will depend on the heat of the chili and your taste.
- ¼ cup andouille sausage, skin removed and cut into ¼-inch dice
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- ¼ cup white wine
- 7 – 8 ounces of cooked lobster meat (I slightly under-steamed 2 1-pound lobster culls, removed the meat from the shell and cut it into 1-inch pieces.)* You can also simply buy cooked lobster meat.
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon chopped tarragon or thyme
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Shells of two lobster tails, split lengthwise to hold the stuffy mixture; or 4 good size scallop shells, clams shells or just four gratin dishes
*For everything you ever wanted to know about lobster, I recommend Jasper White’s classic Lobster at Home.
- Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes or until tender. Add the flour and cook until the mixture is golden brown and crumbly. Add the milk, bay leaf and season with salt and pepper, cook 4 – 5 minutes. The sauce should be very thick. Cool. Remove the bay leaf.
- In a small sauté pan, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the peppers, sausage, and garlic and cook until the sausage starts to render and the peppers are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the white wine and reduce to a glaze. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl. Stir in the cream sauce and allow to cool. Fold in the lobster, parsley and tarragon or thyme. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Spoon a half cup or so into each of 4 lobster tail halves or other containers, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, drizzle with olive oil and set on a baking sheet or skillet. Bake 10- 12 minutes. The crumbs should be toasty and the mixture hot. Serve immediately.
Although I grew up in New England and spent summers on the Cape, I never heard the term “stuffies” until a few summers ago. We didn’t go to many clam shacks and stuffed clams weren’t something my mother made. I had to ask a couple of my chefs what they were talking about. Although most stuffed clams don’t do anything for me, the name just stuck in my mind, waiting for its opportunity. This year I wanted to do something fun with lobster at my Feast of the Seven Fishes Cooking Class at Rialto and suddenly there it was–a lobster stuffy! While bechamel, or cream sauce, holds it all together, I think the andouille and green pepper in the mix give it a very American flavor, our little contribution to Christmas Eve dinner on this side of the Atlantic.