You don't have to be from the Northeast to do a clambake right, but it does help to have a beach around.
A historically proper clambake starts on the beach, in a hole you dug yourself: Four feet wide by four feet deep, a massive fire burning on the bottom. Obviously, check local regulations regarding the legality of beach fires, but the sand and the water nearby are two of the most crucial ingredients.
Throw some stones on top of the fire, letting them heat up — they should be "super hot," says Andrew Taylor, the chef and owner of Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, Maine. "They need to retain that heat for a long period of time." Once the rocks are to temperature, shovel off the ash and debris and get ready for delicious.
In the meantime, prepare your food, which mostly means drink beer and do very little else. What goes in your clambake is really up to you: The basics are (of course) clams, mussels, crabs, and lobsters, but many add sausage and veggies like potatoes and corn. Make sure you pick vegetables hearty enough to stand up to a few hours of heat (aka: No squash).
"Just make sure everything is clean," Taylor says. Potatoes, sausage, and corn go on whole; quahogs and mussels need washing. Remove the neck of the clams, otherwise they get sandy. And whatever you do, keep those lobsters alive.
Your glorious clambake will be a sad, uncooked mess if you’re just relying on those rocks for cooking power, so it's time to bring in the big guns: Fresh seaweed, and its resulting steam. You can harvest this yourself — Taylor likes using rockweed or bladderwrack varietals, both of which are abundant on the Maine coast and handle heat well — but you can also order it online or get it in a specialty shop. You’ll need a lot, up to 20 pounds, enough to make several thick layers.
Start with a thick layer on the bottom, and then begin layering your goods. What goes in a clambake is up to you, but Taylor recommends starting with a layer of potatoes, which take the longest to cook. (And don’t forget: Steam cooks slower than direct heat, so everything will take more time.)
If you'd like to avoid picking individual mussels out of the muck, feel free to wrap each layer in a mesh bag, making it much easier to pick up and serve.
Then, build it up: Layer of seaweed, layer of clams. Layer of seaweed, layer of sausages. Layer of seaweed, layer of eggs to be hardboiled. (Yes, eggs: "Just be careful," Taylor said. "Make a nice little nest of seaweed to insulate them.") And so on, adding mussels, corn, crabs, until you get to your top layer: Lobsters, live and clacking.
Knowing when the clambake is done is tricky, but that's where the lobsters come in: Since they take the least amount of time to cook, once they’re thoroughly red, everything’s cooked—maybe even a little overcooked (better over than under, says Taylor). Expect it to take about four hours from start to finish.
Eager for a clambake but lack a beach to cook it on? Eventide serves a clambake to-order and "I can assure you we don’t go digging up a pit for every order," Taylor says. He offers a modified version for indoor cooking, transforming bamboo steamers (found at almost any Asian market or cooking store), layered with seaweed, seafood, and veggies, just like outside. Swap the full lobster for a tail to make things easier.
This does require a little more prep: You'll need to boil the potatoes and eggs first, and you'll probably want to slice your sausage, not throw it in whole. Steam the whole thing over boiling water for about 10 minutes, waiting for the mussels to open, then serve with melted butter and a slice of lemon.
Quickie Clam Bake:
- ½ lb Soft Shell Clams (AKA Steamers)
- ½ lb Mussels
- 1 Whole Lobster
- ½ lb fingerling or golf ball sized New Potatoes
- 4 oz Chunk of Slab Bacon
- 1 Hard Boiled Egg
- 2 oz Butter
- Lemon Slices
- Place potatoes in cold salted water and bring to boil. Simmer until they are fork tender. Remove and cool.
- In same water, plunge lobster into boiling water for 1 minute and remove to an ice bath. Once cool, remove tail and claws – the tail will still be raw. Save body for another use.
- Clean the mussels and the steamers thoroughly. Allow them to soak in cold salted water for 30 minutes to purge.
- Slice the bacon into 6 ¼ inch slices.
- Using a 12 inch bamboo steamer, place a healthy layer of the rockweed on base. Neatly arrange clams, mussels, lobster tail, lobster claws, potatoes, bacon slices and egg in the steamer. Cover.
- Steam over boiling water for 10–12 minutes or until all mussels are open and steamers are cooked.
- Serve with the melted butter, lemon slices, and a dish of the water that was under the steamer basket for washing the steamer clams.
Note: Be sure to remove the sheath around the neck of the steamers! They are quite sandy if you don't!