Discovering East End Clam Pie
Escaping the smell of freshly baked garbage for the breeze of a Long Island beach is an integral part of a New York summer. If you find yourself there, keep an eye out for clam pie. It's a specialty of Long Island's East End, one of the oldest dishes of the area. We found one -- homemade, frozen -- at Southold Fish Market on the North Fork and hustled it home to the oven. For just $7.50, this pie is a prize. The crust puffs and browns in the oven; the salty, potato-thickened clam stew filling bubbles and oozes.
Slow Food reports that -- although early European settlers up and down the Northeastern seaboard made pies filled with all sorts of seafood -- the clam pie only truly took hold on the East End of Long Island. It has its roots in the savory pies eaten in Great Britain since the Middle Ages, but cooks adapted those recipes to what they had: Even the poorest farmer could dig clams, and potatoes were a hardy New World crop.
Clam pies usually combine the bivalve with potatoes and clam broth; sometimes milk or cream enriches the stew. Depending on what cooks have on hand, they might also throw in tomatoes or sausage.
Southold Fish Market (61850 Route 25) makes its pie with roughly chopped clams and its broth, plus potatoes, onion, celery, carrots, and cream. The velouté-like stew, pleasantly mushy vegetables, and puff pastry remind me of a comforting chicken pot pie, with the mineral brininess of the clams rising above it all.