"In the Latin world, tamales (or tamalli, the Aztecan word) come in all shapes and sizes, not just the cornhusk-wrapped version," says John Rivera Sedlar, chef of Rivera restaurant in downtown L.A. Inspired by a trip to Baja, where he first saw giant surf clams (he now buys them live from a Korean fishmonger in L.A.), Sedlar stuffs the oversized shells with housemade masa mixed with chiles, corn kernels, and clam meat. Because the clams are hard to find and the method a bit labor-intensive for the home cook, we've started with prepared masa and steamed the tamales in ramekins. Sedlar's buttery French-inspired sauce, along with fresh clams, chiles, and garlic, goes on top.

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Credit: Coral Von Zumwalt

Recipe Summary test

1 hr 30 mins
Serves 8 as an appetizer


Ingredient Checklist


Instructions Checklist
  • Put wine, shallots, and crushed garlic in a large pot. Set a steamer basket in pot, add clams, and cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer briskly over medium-high heat until clams open, 5 to 10 minutes.

  • Transfer clams to a plate and let cool. Strain broth from pot; set aside 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. and chill. Remove meat from clams, saving 8 shells; chill meat and shells.

  • Meanwhile, in a large frying pan over medium heat, sauté poblano chile, corn, and pepper in oil until chile is tender-crisp, 7 to 8 minutes. Add minced garlic; cook, stirring, 1 minute. Remove about 2 tbsp. of mixture and set aside.

  • Stir masa in a bowl with 2 tbsp. reserved clam broth and 2 tbsp. water. Stir in corn mixture from pan and half of clam meat. Spoon into 8 (4- to 6-oz.) oiled ramekins; smooth tops. Cover each with foil.

  • Put a rack in a roasting pan and fill pan with water to just below rack. Set ramekins on rack. Cover pan tightly with foil. Heat over 2 burners on high heat until a little steam escapes; reduce heat to medium-low and cook until tamales feel fairly firm, 35 minutes.

  • Meanwhile, in a small frying pan over medium-high heat, cook jalapeños until blackened, turning occasionally, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool, then peel, seed, and dice.

  • Boil reserved 3/4 cup clam broth in a saucepan over medium-high heat until reduced to 1/3 cup, 5 minutes. Stir in jalapeños. A few minutes before serving, whisk in butter a bit at a time until melted. Stir in remaining clams and heat until warm, then stir in shells.

  • Unwrap ramekins; put on plates. Spoon clam sauce on top and set a clamshell on each. Top with reserved poblano chile, cilantro, and Fresno chiles.

  • *Masa for tamales has fat, leavening, and salt added to ground corn. Find it at Latino markets.

Chef's Notes

Nutritional analysis is per ramekin.


Rivera Restaurant, Los Angeles

Nutrition Facts

356 calories; calories from fat 68%; protein 9.1g; fat 27g; saturated fat 11g; carbohydrates 20g; fiber 2.8g; sodium 380mg; cholesterol 51mg.