International Recipes and Cooking Around the World

Clambake

Clambake (American New England seafood and vegetable beach barbecue)

(American, New England seafood and vegetable beach barbecue)

Image Creative Commons by Arnold Gatilao

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A clambake on the beach is a longstanding summer tradition along the New England coast of the northeastern United States. Fresh seafood, potatoes and vegetables are steamed in a seaweed-lined firepit and served with lots of melted butter.

This way of cooking is said to have originated with the original inhabitants of the area, the Wampanoag Indians. Make sure to find a beach that allows you to build a firepit. Known as a "lobster bake" in Maine.

About 10 servings

Ingredients

For the Food

  • Lobsters, medium-sized -- 4 or 5
  • Clams in their shell -- 4 pounds
  • Large potatoes -- 10 to 12
  • Corn on the cob, cut into two coblets -- 10
  • Onions, cut into large wedges -- 4
  • Large amount of cheesecloth
  • Bucket of clean seawater

For the Pit

  • Shovel
  • Large beach stones
  • Firewood
  • Lots of seaweed, well washed
  • Canvas tarp, soaked in seawater

Method

  1. Start out by making your fire pit at least 5 hours before you want to eat. Dig a hole on the beach that is about 2 feet (60 cm) wide, 3 feet (90 cm) long and 1 1/2 feet (45 cm) deep. Line the pit with large, smooth stones collected from the beach. Build a fire over the stones and let it burn down to glowing embers, around 2 or 3 hours.
  2. While the fire is burning down, prepare your food. Get a big bucket of clean seawater to have on hand. Cut out sections of cheesecloth about 1 1/2 feet square. Wrap the lobsters in 2 or 3 sections of cheesecloth and tie closed. Do the same with the clams, potatoes, corn and onions. Dip each cheesecloth bag into the seawater to soak it through.
  3. Scoop the ashes off the hot stones in the pit and discard. Force any burning embers down between the stones. Line the bottom of the pit with a fair amount of seaweed. Layer the cheesecloth bags over the seaweed. Top the pit with another layer of seaweed. Lay the seawater-soaked tarp over the firepit and seal the edges, weighing them down with more stones.
  4. Let the clambake steam for 2 or 3 hours. Drink a few beers while you wait and set up tables with checkered tablecloths, seafood shell crackers and lots of napkins.
  5. Remove the tarp and take out the cheesecloth bags. Open the bags onto serving platters and serve the food hot with lemon wedges and lots of melted butter for dipping.

Clambake Variations

  • Other Ingredients: There are many regional and family variations to the clambake. Common seafood additions include mussels, crabs and shrimp. Clambakes in some areas add chicken or hot dogs. Portuguese influence in Rhode Island shows up in the addition of linguiça sausages. Or try adding sweet potatoes or whole eggs.
  • New England Clam Boil: You don't have to go to the beach for a clambake. Fit a large pot or Dutch oven with a steamer basket or lay a layer of seaweed in the bottom of the pot. Pour an inch or two of lightly salted water into the pot. Lay the potatoes on the steamer basket or seaweed. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the lobster and onions, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the corn, cover and simmer for another 10 minutes. Finally top with the clams, cover and steam for another 10 minutes. Serve with melted butter and some of the pot liquid for dipping. Try using white wine or vermouth instead of water if you like.
  • The best kind of seaweed for a clambake is rockweed. It has little seawater-filled sacs that burst with the heat and season the food with their savory liquid.

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