In East Hampton, New York, locals refer to themselves as “Bonackers.” The term originates in the town’s Accabonac Harbor, and also with the first white settlers to the area. Here, in this eastern Long Island hamlet — where I happen to live — you will find the Bonac clam pie, a savory mélange of (steamed or raw) local clams; potatoes (mashed, whipped, or cubed); onions; possibly celery; perhaps bacon; some herbs or spices, or both; and either a broth- or cream-based sauce, all heaped between flaky crusts that may be made with lard, or butter, or even shortening.
The Bonac clam pie, in its fluidity, dates back to at least 1896, when the recipe was first recorded by the Ladies’ Village Improvement Society of East Hampton. That recipe, actually, calls for nothing more than chopped shellfish, eggs, milk, broth, seasoning, and two non-specific pie crusts. (The recipe’s author, Ann Parsons, simply writes, “rich.”) Historically, this was a dish of access. Costly meat may have been hard to procure during challenging times, but not clams, which any working person could rake up. The pie became a way to stretch provisions, to add protein to pantry items like lard and flour, producing something stunning.
“It was a meal that was supposed to be filling,” said James Beard Award nominated-chef Jeremy Blutstein, who currently works as the executive chef for Gurney’s Star Island Resort & Marina in Montauk. “If you’re working outside all day long, you need something with a high-calorie intake. Clams were cheap because they were free.”
Blutstein, who moved to Amagansett in 1991, was first introduced to clam pie at school. “I remember kids bringing clam pie with them in their lunches,” he said. Blutstein’s own iteration uses potatoes (mashed, not whipped), salt, raw chowder and Cherrystone clams, clam stock, lemon zest, and parsley, encased in a blind-baked, duck fat-based dough.
Clam pie is about memory and preference, and to make one is a warm reminder of the cultural currency of food.
“New England clam chowder in a pie shell,” Charlotte Klein Sasso, who owns Stuart’s Seafood Market in Amagansett…