Clams oreganata, otherwise known as baked clams with garlicky breadcrumbs, are a perfect appetizer for any time of the year. Wonderful in the summer, but equally welcome during the winter (especially as one of the seven fishes), baked clams oreganata is a dish that might look complicated, but is actually so simple that it can be made in about 20 minutes.
Growing up on Long Island, you might consider clams oreganata a religion.
You can find these baked clams nearly everywhere, from Italian restaurants to beachside and roadside seafood shacks.
They are a staple here, and if you also grew up in the area, you've probably eaten dozens of clams oreganata in your lifetime.
I'm here to tell you that you can make your own clams oreganata at home and they'll be every bit as good as the ones you find in a restaurant. And the best part is they are so incredibly simple to make!
What type of clams for oreganata?
For this recipe, and in the pictures below, I used littlenecks. These are abundant here on Long Island (named after littleneck bay in western long Island) and you can find them in most grocery stores and fish markets on the east coast.
Littlenecks are sold in bags of 10-12 per pound, making them the perfect size for this recipe.
Littlenecks are a particular size of Quahog clams and are smaller than the other clams such as topneck, cherrystone, and chowder clams. They are all the same species of clam. Just different sizes.
You can use topnecks to make this baked clam recipe, though they aren't sold too frequently in stores. Save the cherrystone and chowder clams for clam chowder as they're large and a little on the tougher side.
How to make clams oreganata
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Preheat oven to 425f. Clean clams of all debris with a nylon scrub brush and cold water then place them on a baking sheet and cook in the oven until they slightly open (about 2-3 minutes).
- Once they open even a bit you can easily open the clam up with a butter knife. Slide the knife all the way into the opening on both sides, then lever the shell open. Don't try to open at the end, rather slide the knife all the way in then just turn it 90 degrees and the shell will easily open. Any clams that haven't opened will need 1-2 more minutes in the oven. In the event the clam continues to not open, it should be discarded. Clams that don't open are already dead and should not be eaten.
- With the shell open, use the butter knife to completely remove the clam from the shell. Once removed place it back into one half of the shell and discard the top of the shell.
- You can see all the clams have opened and there was a fair amount of sand in them even though they were purged. Don't worry you still want to save the flavorful clam juice. At this time set the oven rack to the second-highest level and turn the broiler to high.
- Pour the clam juice into a fine mesh strainer or even better, use a coffee filter. Reserve the clam juice for the next steps. If you don't have enough clam juice you can use chicken stock or bottled clam juice to make up the difference.
- Combine a ½ cup breadcrumbs, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, ½ teaspoon dried oregano, ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and a ¼ cup of clam juice. Mix well and taste test. Adjust salt if needed. If the breadcrumbs aren't moist enough add a bit more of the clam juice.
- Spoon the breadcrumb mixture into each clam and place them on a large baking sheet. Try to pack the breadcrumbs completely over the clam to ensure they stay moist during the cooking process.
- Pour a ½ cup clam juice and a ¼ cup dry white wine into the pan. Add 2 tablespoons of butter as well. Drizzle a touch of extra virgin olive oil onto each clam.
- A touch of the remaining breadcrumbs (don't add more than 2 tablespoons worth) can be added to the liquid. Broil the clams for 5-7 minutes or until the top of the breadcrumbs are nice and brown. Watch the whole time to ensure no burning.
- And there you have perfect clams oreganata! Serve in a platter and pour the remaining pan sauce around the clams. Serve with bread to mop up the sauce and lemon wedges.
Note: Clams oreganata pair well with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy with a glass of the same wine you used to make your sauce!
Do clams need to be purged?
Because clams are filter feeders, they tend to hold onto a lot of sand that needs to be removed, or purged, before you cook them.
Most commercial clams will already have been purged by the time you buy them from the supermarket, however, if you are buying your clams from a farmer's market, or a smaller seller, you may need to purge them yourself.
If you're using a Quahog variety as I used here, these tend to be easier to purge.
To purge the clams, you essentially want to create the same environment as the ocean, meaning you'll want to place them in a water bath whose salinity is equal to that of seawater (~3.5 %). Don't use hot water!
For each liter of water, you would add about 2 tablespoons of sea salt. Submerge the clams in the salt water for 1-2 hours to allow them to purge and release their sand.
Changing the water 1-2 times will help remove sand, but it isn't normally necessary with littlenecks.
When they're done purging, give them another rinse before using them.
More great seafood recipes
If you love clams oreganata, we think you'll also enjoy these seafood favorites!
- Linguine alle vongole - The classic Italian white clam sauce with linguine.
- Clams in red sauce - Perfect as a Seven Fishes dish, clams are cooked in a garlicky tomato and basil sauce.
- Mussels marinara - Quick and easy appetizer of mussels in garlicky tomato sauce.
- Shrimp oreganata - Similar to clams oreganata, but with shrimp!
- Shrimp fra diavolo - Another New York classic, shrimp and linguine are tossed in a spicy marinara sauce.
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- 2 dozen Littleneck clams
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil divided
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoon parsley minced
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup white wine divided
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ¾ cup clam juice or chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large lemon cut into wedges, for serving
- Cook clams in the oven at 425f until they slightly open - only a few minutes. Carefully open the clams with a butter knife and discard the top. Break the clam free from the shell then place it back in the shell. Set oven rack to the second highest level and turn the broiler to high.
- In a bowl combine the breadcrumbs, salt, crushed red pepper flakes, parsley, oregano, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and a ¼ cup of clam juice. Mix well and taste test. Adjust salt and pepper if needed. If the breadcrumbs aren't moist enough add a bit more of the clam juice.
- Pack the clams with the breadcrumb mixture. Seal the clams in tight so they stay moist during cooking.
- Place the clams on a baking sheet and add the wine, remaining clam juice, and butter to the pan. Sprinkle a bit of the remaining breadcrumbs (no more than 2 tablespoons worth) into the clam juice. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil onto each clam and place sheet in the broiler for 5-7 minutes. Carefully watch the clams so that they don’t burn.
- When they are nice and brown remove and plate the clams. Pour the pan juices into the dish around the clams for anyone to spoon on extra juice if they like. Also, serve with lemon wedges. Enjoy!
- The recipe uses Littleneck clams, but any smallish clam will work well.
- The initial baking of the clams should be done to the point where the clams just open a crack (about 2-3 minutes) so that they don't overcook, but allow easy opening of the shells.
- Any extra clam juice can be strained and used for the needed liquid. If you don't have enough, use extra storebought clam juice or chicken stock to make up the difference.
- The breadcrumbs should be moist and drizzled with olive oil so that they don't dry out during the broiling process.
- The extra clam juice, wine, and butter sauce is excellent spooned on top of the clams or is perfect for bread dipping.
- Clams should be eaten immediately. Seafood is best served right away and not reheated for leftovers.