ITALIAN-AMERICAN SHRIMP BALLS ALLA LITTLE CHARLIES CLAM BAR, NYC

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  These are Shrimp balls  (ok, stop your lol’ing) and you will want to eat these balls.  Period, end of story.  Tasty morsels of everything that’s good in an Italian-American kitchen and more, it’s SEAFOOD!  And like with all little fried tidbits they are great for entertaining or as a first course.  Now let me tell you about these particular ones, first of all they are not my idea, they are a creation (although probably not unique) of a now extinct Italian-American Clam bar restaurant on Kenmare Street in the old Little Italy section of Manhattan, NYC.  It’s name was LITTLE CHARLIE’S CLAM BAR and it was famous. I know, everywhere is famous, but this place was.  It was pure Goodfellas with a touch of Rat Pack and Godfather and Pope of Greenwich Village thrown in for added effect.  Call it a “Red Sauce” joint if you want (I don’t want, I hate that term) with seafood as it’s specialty.  Little Italy seafood restaurants were /are a subset of all other seafood places.  They of course have the requisite Raw Bar, but they also have this Napoletana influenced fried seafood assortment.  Shrimp and calamari are lightly dusted in flour, quick fried, then placed in a platter, a FRISELLE (hard Italian Black Pepper Biscuit) on the bottom, and your choice of 3 sauces..these hard core garlic laden tomato sauces which come in varying degrees of heat. Sweet, Medium, or Hot.  Get your choices straight or you are in for trouble. The sauce is then poured over the top with lemon on the side and this is the stuff Italian-American food dreams are made of.  This is a picture of Little Charlie’s which closed about 5 years ago. The name is still up there but it’s not the restaurant it was:461044384_b40cc290fe  The cooks and chefs walked over the Manhattan Bridge and resettled in hipster trendy central, Williamsburg, Brooklyn and opened Desy’s Clam Bar.  You can find some of the old flavors there including these SHRIMP BALLS which when we used to order out or in at Little Charlie’s we would get extra.  They are that good.

MAKES: ABOUT 20-25 SHRIMP BALLS                                      TIME: 1 1/2 HOURS

1 1/2 LB CLEANED, DEVEINED MEDIUM SHRIMP (DO NOT USE LARGE OR JUMBO BECAUSE IT’S A SHAME TO CHOP THEM  UP), THEN CHOP THEM INTO SMALL PIECES

1 1/8 CUP PLAIN ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS

2 TBS. OLIVE OIL

JUICE OF ONE LEMON

3 FINELY MINCED (ALMOST INTO A PASTE) CLOVES OF GARLIC

3 TBS. CHOPPED FLAT LEAF ITALIAN PARSLEY

1/2 TSP. PEPERONCINO (LESS IF YOU ARE NOT A FAN OF THAT SPICY KICK)

1 TBS. WHITE WINE

2 BEATEN EGGS

1/8 CUP GRATED PECORINO ROMANO

1/2 TSP. DRIED OREGANO RUBBED BETWEEN YOUR HANDS

First mix all the dry ingredients.  Then add the eggs, oil, lemon juice then the shrimp.  Blend well.  Form as many golf ball sized Shrimp balls as you can.  Place on a baking sheet you have covered with a piece of waxed paper then loosely cover and chill them in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour.

In a heavy skillet add 1/2inch of olive oil.  Bring up the heat and fry the balls off till nicely browned on all sides.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Aren’t they beautiful??  And they taste even better than they look. This process should take no more and 8-10 minutes but LET YOUR EYE BE YOUR GUIDE!!!  A recipe is a guide which sometimes needs adjusting.  You may follow my instructions but have your heat too high, or too low and it will affect the final product.  You want to make sure that the balls are cooked through and no more.  Cook  in batches and drain on Brown paper bags or paper towels.

THE SAUCE:

This is important…it’s what makes something “Little Italy” style in my eyes.  It’s not a Marinara or Sugo di Pomodoro that you generally have with a vast array of pastas or using as a dipping sauce.  One day I’ll find out the genesis of this sauce and be very happy with that knowledge. Till then, just make it, it’s intrinsic to the dish.

You will notice my departure from the San Marzanos. SHOCKING! Here’s why, this is a thick sauce and I’m thinking that this sauce may have been devised in the kitchens of early immigrant Italian cooks to the U.S. Tomato puree and paste are best for this.

1 can Tomato Puree

1 can tomato paste

5 (yes~another reason I think the sauce is a made in  America version of an Italian sauce) CLOVES OF SLICED GARLIC

3 TBS OLIVE OIL

1/4 TSP PEPERONCINO for a SWEET version

1 TSP. PEPERONCINO FOR the MEDIUM version

2 TBS.PEPERONCINO FOR the HOT version

2 tbs. WHITE WINE

SALT, PEPPER

Pay attention to those amounts…you will kill your dish if you don’t pick which heat intensity you are comfortable with.  the Hot version is REALLY hot.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil..then add the Peperoncino right into the oil..this is going to carry that heat and chile flavor through the finished sauce.  Now add the garlic and let this sizzle JUST until it starts to get golden…work quickly here..then add the wine  and then the tomato paste.  Mix in the paste with the hot oil (at this point lower the heat a bit) and cook for 2 minutes, stirring while you wait.  Then add the tomatoes and 1/2 can of water (using the tomato puree can). Salt and Pepper to taste. Stir well then bring to a boil. Now lover the heat to a simmer and let this cook until it’s about 1/2 reduced.  This should take about 1 hour 15 minutes.  Just keep on low(simmer) and keep stirring.  It’s a hot, spicy, deep colored sauce.   Serve the sauce over the balls or in a small bowl for dipping.

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There’s a bit of dried oregano in the sauce, but that’s  not a good garnish.  Instead I’m using fresh oregano sprigs from my garden.  A note on garnishing, always use something that’s an ingredient in the dish (flowers are exempt from this rule).  Now you must be saying, there’s dried oregano in the sauce and fresh as the garnish. WHAT the hell???  It’s the same herb,yes different tastes but it looks good without throwing you off.  Don’t like that logic?  LOL…sorry, pull up a chair , squeeze some lemon over the balls and dip into that sauce.

By the way I didn’t miss the step where you bread the balls…they do not get breaded.

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19 thoughts on “ITALIAN-AMERICAN SHRIMP BALLS ALLA LITTLE CHARLIES CLAM BAR, NYC

  1. Ozzie

    Peter, Merry Christmas and thanks for all your work – it is appreciated. I miss Little Charlies, and the others as well. This version of your sauce looks a bit different to the one you highlighted in the past, maybe I’m mistaken. Can’t wait to make this. I use the sauce on calamari steaks I get out West here in Portland, and make with Mozzarella for my boys – they love it. It’s not Vincent’s but it is pretty good. Thanks again, looking forward to making the shrimp balls soon. Ozzie

    Reply
  2. Mary

    I have been looking forever for a shrimp ball & sauce recipe that would replicate Umberto’s Clam House. It sounds like this may be just the thing I need, and I can’t wait to give it a try. Now only if I could get some good hard biscuits to bury in garlic and oil! Would you by any chance be able to tell me what size cans you are referring to for the paste and puree? And, thanks for sharing the recipe! We love your site!

    Reply
      1. Joe Cat

        Thanks so much for sharingall you know with us as I told you once before the Shrimp Balls were out of sight these recipes will keep me busy fot a while will try to make some for friends when i go to FLA in a couple of weeks thanks again Peter  JOE CATANIA

  3. Gypsy Girl

    Ok so, little Charlie’s was a family favorite of ours for 4 generations (we actually cried when it closed down) anyway I’ll tell you the secret to the sauce that Angelo (the fat old guy who sat in the corner for years) told my mom….Use the oil you fried the shrimp in as the base for your sauce, not new oil, and right before your sauce is done, squeeze some fresh lemon in! Hope you enjoy, try it you won’t be dissapointed

    Reply
      1. Gypsy girl

        Try it and let me know if it’s reminiscent enjoy… actually thinking of going to Desys this weekend!

      1. Joe

        Peter like I told you this pass Jan your recipes are out of sight I have tried 5 or 6 difference ones so far pete email me if you can we could do lunch with some other retired traders that I know you know let me know

      2. Joe Cat

        Great will try to set a date during the week of Dec 12th will be around the Red Bank area that good for you? also it will be me bob farrell and bob donato you good and Merry Christmas to you and your family Joe

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