In parts of the country, nothing screams summer louder than “clambake!”
These seafood feasts date back to the days when Native Americans lived in coastal regions and cooked the sea’s bounty over open fires. The modern day clambake evolved from that tradition and is still going strong.
Clambakes are traditionally large family or community affairs, and for good reason. They require a lot of preparation and a significant commitment of time. You will, however, reap your rewards in the delicious seafood dinner that traditionally includes not just clams but also lobster, mussels, corn, onions and potatoes. The best part: an easy cleanup.
You’ll find everything you need for a clambake right on or near the beach: the sand for creating a fire pit, the logs for creating the fire; the rocks that are used to actually cook the food; and the seaweed, straight from the ocean, that turns the pit into a steamer.
Here is everything you need to know to get the party started.
The Fire Pit
Check first with local authorities to either make sure that it’s legal to have a fire on the beach or apply for any permits you might need.
Choose a good spot, close to the water, but far enough away that high tide won’t disrupt your party. Dig a pit about 10 inches deep and 4 or 5 feet in diameter — more or less — depending upon how many people you’re feeding (the bigger the crowd, the larger the pit should be).
Use medium-sized stones to line the entire pit. Build a strong fire covering as much of the stone-lined pit as you can. Be sure to have enough firewood to keep the fire going for two or three hours. The stones will cook your food, and must be heated glowing hot. While you wait, gather up the mounds of seaweed you’ll need for the next cooking step.
Rake the ashes out of the pit when the stones are sufficiently heated. Next, place the seaweed onto the hot rocks. The seaweed layer should be about 6 inches thick, but exercise great caution as you put it into place. Make sure it’s wet enough to make the rocks steam.
Layer the food atop the seaweed. Start with the clams, then mussels, then lobster, and top it off with corn (still in their husks), whole potatoes, and peeled and quartered onions. Some people like to wrap individual servings of seafood, meat and vegetables in moistened cheesecloth or aluminum foil before adding them to the pit, which makes serving the meal much easier.
Cover the food with another layer of wet seaweed and then cover the entire pit with a sea water-drenched canvas tarp, using rocks to weigh down the edges. Voilà! A sand pit is now an enormous steamer.
Let it cook for at least about two hours. To ensure that the food doesn’t get too dry, keep things steaming by “basting” the canvas covered pit with seawater every 20 minutes.
Remove tarp and seafood covering carefully, then say hello to dinner. Using tongs to take out cooked ingredients, arrange your meal on large trays and let your guests serve themselves. While it’s doubtful that Native Americans served melted butter with their quahogs, feel free to modernize the tradition and provide butter and lemon wedges — and, of course, moist towelettes to use when the feast is finished.
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