Before I left for a vacation Back East, I pledged to eat seafood twice a day. The high desert of Northern New Mexico may have fabulous food but, alas, not fish and shellfish that is off-the-boat fresh.
So, how did I do? Not as well as I hoped. But still I enjoyed some tasty meals.
For lunch one day, we met Fred and Joan at the Assonet Inn in Freetown, which was between their home in Rhode Island and my parents’ place on Buzzards Bay. Fred knew about the restaurant from old college friends. He warned me the chowder was not as thick as the one served in Boston, which suits me just fine.
I knew Fred in college, and we’ve maintained contact throughout the years via letters, phone calls, and email. We share our thoughts on writing, movies, politics, family stuff, and more. It would be nice to catch up in person at lunch.
The inn was a little on the funky side, but then it was built in 1847 by John Deane, a Civil War Medal of Honor winner. The next owner was Edith Cockroft, who converted the house into a bar and sandwich place after Prohibition was repealed. The Assonet Inn’s ownership has passed through three more generations.
Of course, we went for the clam chowder. The broth’s consistency was half way between a Massachusetts chowder, which tends to be on the creamy side, and a Rhode Island, which has a clear base. The surface had a light buttery slick.
For the main course, I ordered a plate of littleneck steamers. So did Joan. Littlenecks are hard-shell clams or quahogs found on the Eastern shore.
I spent many summers at the beach while my parents went “quahoging” during low tide. The town, which issues shellfish licenses, has certain spots set aside for digging. My mother stuck to the sandbars. My father ventured a little farther out. They used long-handled clamming rakes and a metal ring to measure whether a quahog was a legal size.
Quahogs get tough as they grow larger. When the shells are big enough to fill the palm of a hand, they are best chopped for chowder, deep-fried clam cakes or stuffed quahogs — stuffies Fred called them.
To make stuffies, the large quahogs are steamed until they open. Save the broth. Remove and chop the meat. Sautée finely chopped garlic, onion, celery, parsley, a little crushed red pepper, and salt. Soak bread cubes in the broth for the stuffing. (Think Thanksgiving stuffing consistency.) Add the quahog meat and sautéed vegetables. Fill a quahog shell with the stuffing and cover with its matching shell or foil. Bake the stuffies on a cooking sheet 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
At the Assonet Inn, the steamed littlenecks were tender and the broth was good enough to eat on its own, which is exactly what I did.