"Use just four ingredients."

That's the mantra I heard over and over again from my father, who heard it from his father ... all Yankee chefs. Although I grew up believing clam cakes should be prepared with clams, cracker crumbs, clam juice (or liquor) and eggs; they are formed and fried in lard or vegetable oil.

I couldn't help to think how great these would be if they just had a little more depth. After all, crab cakes are their principle rival. I didn't however, want to take away from the very delicate taste of the clams but I did want to make them more acceptable to the masses. I think I may have succeeded in that endeavor.

"Fresh" New England Clam Cakes ... Period

At the onset, you may think that the cheddar cheese would overpower any possibility in tasting the clams in these deliciously crisp cakes but you would be wrong. The cheese plays a beautiful role in elevating this rather mundane side or main dish into something far less expensive than crab cakes. And with the addition of fresh cucumbers and the crunch of corn meal truly rounds the entire recipe off. But omit if isn't your thing.

2 (7- ounce) cans chopped clams, drained

2 eggs

1 cup crushed Ritz crackers

1/4 cup minced, seedless and peeled cucumber

1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons minced onion

1/2 cup corn meal

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

Sliced cucumbers, for garnish

Creamy Cucumber dressing, if desired

In a medium bowl, mix clams, eggs, crackers, cucumbers, cheese and onion well. Divide clam mixture into 4 equal balls and flatten them out to about an inch in thickness. Refrigerate 15 minutes.

Add butter to a large skillet over medium heat until melted. Meanwhile, remove clam cakes from refrigerator and dredge both sides with corn meal. Add the clam cakes and grill for about 4-5 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Remove to serving plates and serve with sliced cucumbers and a side of Creamy Cucumber dressing, if desired.

Here is some interesting trivia for all you clam lovers (called Yankee's by the way): Fannie Daddies is the original name for Fried Clams, Boat Steerers is the original name of Clam Fritters, which is said to have been first made by a Lawrence Woodman, at Woodmans Restaurant, in Essex, Mass., on July 3, 1916.

Chef Jim Baley -- The Yankee Chef -- is a noted food columnist, cookbook author and the foremost New England Food Historian. He is a third generation chef and historian and lives in Maine with his wife and four children. He welcomes feedback at theyankeechef@aol.com.