by Prof. Steve Holzinger
I had my first professional encounter with the clam at the McGinness Broadway Restaurant, just across the street from the Latin Quarter, in the heart of New York's theater district. Our clam bars were always busy, and part of my job was to do the night receiving of the clams.
The theater district had so much traffic that we did our receiving of goods during the night and early morning hours. Our clams came in barrels, not the customary bushels. A barrel equals three bushels, over a thousand Cherrystone clams. We bought great big Chowders, medium size Cherrystones and small Littlenecks, as well as Steamer Clams. After polishing off a few clams from each barrel to check quality, I would take a look at the two eighteen gallon wooden pickle barrels where we kept our cocktail sauce, and if one was getting low, I would make cocktail sauce on the big mixer, and refill the barrel. This way our cocktail sauce aged for a week or so. Half Heinz catsup, half Heinz chili sauce, (the boss would allow no other brand), frozen grated horseradish (the closest thing to fresh....it was killer!) and freshly squeezed lemon juice. That is all, nothing else ever, and we did a land office business in clams on the half shell and shrimp cocktails.
When opening the clams (see How to Open a Clam), the clam opener held them over a stainless steel bowl in the sink to catch the natural clam liquor. Steady customers who were good tippers got a Nedicks glass of clam liquor and tomato juice liberally laced with Tabasco. I add a little vodka or gin, and call it a Clamshot. The vitamin C in the tomato juice is good for you, and you add just enough to make the clam liquor pink.
I like my clams plain, nothing can improve them, but cold shrimps can use some help. Frankly, the way I like shrimps, crabs, crayfish and such, is to take a bucket of them, heads on, and bring them to boil in sea water, with a handful of Old Bay crab boil and a handful of crushed red chili peppers, give a short simmer, and let cool in the pot. This is what I call Gulfport style, because that is where I ran into it in Mississippi.
Our shrimp cocktails were fabulous, five 16-20 count (big ones) shrimps to the order, hanging off the iced supreme dish with shredded iceberg lettuce and a large cup of our "McGinness Famous Broadway Cocktail Sauce" as the menu put it, and two large wedges of lemon. Truly, we bought and sold nothing but the best quality, and the Broadway style of menu writing proclaimed it. Nothing was ever plain or ordinary or even singular, and Large was the regular size. The lemon wedge that is customarily served became, as I have said, "Two Large Wedges of Sunkist California Lemon."
We served steamed clams as well, which are a different breed of soft-shell clam, which I have always called piss clams, because they have a long neck that they stick up through the sand, and when you walk by, they squirt at you. We had little aluminum Wearever pots, which we set up with an order of clams (or mussels) and a spoonful of chopped garlic and parsley in butter. There was a pot of extra clam broth on the back of the stove, and when we got an order, a ladle of this hot broth went into a pot of clams, the cover went on and it sat on the stove. It would announce itself ready to serve by clanking the pot lid.
A cup of broth would be poured off, so the customer could "dunk" the clam, to rid it of any sand, and then dip it into melted butter and eat it, discarding the neck skin. The soft-shell clams would go into a shallow soup bowl, with a little broth, and the rest of the broth would go back into the broth pot. As the kitchen was always hot, when I got thirsty I would have a cup of this naturally salty hot broth. Old-timers warned me never to drink ice water, the hot clam broth was the best remedy for the heat, and so it was. This rich clam broth, mixed half and half with beef consomme, topped with unsweetened whipped cream, set under the broiler to glaze, becomes Consomme Bellevue, which we will meet again when I tell you about finishing glazes for dishes.
That extra pot of clam broth would end up in the Manhattan Clam Chowder we made. It was also used in our thick garlicky Clam Bisque. Naturally, being on Broadway, in the middle of Manhattan, we had to make the red chowder, and we figured on a dozen big chowder clams ( weighing better than a half pound each) per gallon. We cooked the well scrubbed clams in a mixture of half white stock and half water, and often added the contents of the clam broth pot, 'just for sweetening.' The thick tough lips of the clam body and the rubbery adductor muscles that close the shell were all trimmed away, and passed through the grinder before adding them to the soup. They were then small enough pieces so as not to be noticeably tough, but added flavor and 'clam' the chowder.
Needless to say, our clam chowder was a "must have" item. On Friday and Saturday nights we served our " McGinness Famous Broadway Shore Dinner" which consisted of a baked stuffed clam, clam chowder, salad, hot rolls and butter, a stuffed broiled lobster with drawn butter, French fries or corn, coffee and pie. The baked stuffed clams claimed all our stale rolls for bread crumbs, and were redolent of garlic and oregano, and liberally seasoned with pepper.
Of course, if you wanted a real hot clam appetizer, buttery Clams Casino were available, ala carte. We made the Casino butter up in wax paper rolls, so you could cut slices or pats off it, and had the bacon strips blanched and cut into four. I got the order, called a " half dozen cherries" to the pantry man, and when he passed them to me, I would pass them to the fishcook and say, "Casino" or Casino pronto" if they had been a while coming out of the pantry.
I worked the slide in the downstairs dining room kitchen, where it was a slow Friday night if we did not serve 500 covers. I took the written orders from the waiters, and called them to the cooks. If you have seen the hilarious British TV Comedy , "Chef," you will have seen as well as heard him calling the orders. The reason someone calls the orders to the cooks, instead of the waiters calling the orders, is in the interest of peace. If waiters start giving orders to cooks, the inevitable result is war, war most foul and nasty. Someone respected (or feared) must stand between the waiters and the cooks to avert disaster, and coordinate the cooking of the orders.
An order of prime rib is ready whenever it is wanted, but a lobster takes twenty minutes, and I never fired a lobster that I didn't have a ticket for. I had a man cutting lobsters on the other side of the kitchen, and I would call to him "Six." and he would cut six lobsters, pull the dead man (craw) and put them on a tray, add seasoned crumbs (see gratinee) and butter to the cavity and bring them to the cook who ran the lobster broiler and oven. Then when the lobster cook had them ready he would tell me, "I have an order of six." , and I would consult the next ticket for six I had hanging on the board and reply, "four with corn," and he would start plating them, giving French fries to two orders. "Give me a prime ribs, rare with baked, up with six," I would call, to complete the order. "Waiter John, " I called, "pick up seven," and the appropriate waiter or his bus boy would pick up the order and take it to the checker.
It took stern discipline to keep the warring parties in line. I was quick, and could throw my voice to hit just the person I wanted to hear me, so the orders went out as fast as they were cooked. We cooked to order, no matter how busy we were, because that was the way to do it right. Our food was simple, but freshly cooked, and you could taste it. Many of our customers were long time steady customers, in a tourist area. We thought of ourselves as a New York City landmark, "McGinness Famous Broadway Restaurant" —home of the extra large Broadway Clam.
© 1996, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified July 2007
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