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A New England Style Clambake

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Clams, mussels, lobsters, and all the trimmings get steamed in a charcoal kettle grill.

The clambake serves 4 to 6 while the punch and pie serves 10 to 12; you can double the clambake or halve the punch to suit your needs.

Summer is clambake season where I live on the coast of Maine. I’ve always loved the steamy, smoky, salty aroma and taste of these seaside feasts, but a traditional fire-pit-on-the-beach clambake is a laborious all-day affair. So instead, I fire up my kettle grill, layering fresh seaweed and shellfish over a charcoal fire. This way, I can simulate the wonderful sea-soaked flavor without the hassle of lugging everything to the beach and digging a fire pit.

This menu makes a classic clambake for four to six people, with all the trimmings—two kinds of clams, mussels, lobsters, chicken, sausages, corn, and potatoes. You’ll need a standard 22- to 24-inch kettle grill to cook it while gas grills are handy for most cookouts, they won’t give you the smoky fire you need here. The other crucial ingredients are hardwood chunks, to supplement your charcoal and create a slow-burning fire; and seaweed, which protects the food from the intense heat of the fire and creates the initial steam to start the cooking.

Menu Timeline

Up to One Day Ahead:

  • Make the pie dough.

At Least Six Hours Ahead:

  • Make and bake the blueberry pie.
  • Make the syrup for the punch, and combine with all other ingredients except the sparkling water.

Two Hours Ahead:

  • Prep the clams and mussels and bundle them in cheesecloth.
  • Parboil the potatoes.
  • Husk the corn.

90 Minutes Ahead

  • Build the fire according to the directions in the clambake recipe
  • Briefly grill the chicken and sausages.

Thirty Minutes Ahead:

  • Layer the seaweed, lobsters, and remaining clambake ingredients on the grill; cover and cook
  • While the clambake cooks, melt the butter and keep warm.
  • When the shellfish, chicken and sausages are fully cooked, serve all the food on large platters, with melted butter spooned into individual dishes for dipping.
  • Add the sparkling water to the punch just before serving.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce:

  • 4 ears corn
  • 1-1/2 lb. small new potatoes
  • 4 cups fresh blueberries (2-1/2 dry pints or 1-1/4 lb.)
  • 2 pints fresh strawberries
  • 5-6 medium lemons
  • 1 English cucumber

Meat, Seafood & Dairy:

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 4 sausages, such as bratwurst, chorizo, Italian, or other specialty links
  • 4 live lobsters (about 1 lb. each)
  • 2 lb. live clams, preferably a mix of soft-shell “steamers” and a hard-shell variety like mahogany or littleneck
  • 1 lb. mussels
  • 1 lb. unsalted butter
  • 4-1/2 oz. (1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs.) cold cream cheese
  • 3 Tbs. heavy cream
  • 2 Tbs. milk

Other Groceries:

  • 3 750-ml bottles off-dry white wine (such as Riesling Spatlese, Vouvray, or Chenin Blanc)
  • 1 quart sparkling water
  • 3-1/2 oz. (3/4 cup) cake flour
  • 1-1/2 cups aquavit, preferably Norwegian, such as Linie

Pantry Staples:

  • 6-1/2 oz. (1-1/2 cups) bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1-2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbs. cornstarch
  • 1 Tbs. cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Black peppercorns

For the Fire:

  • 20-lb. sack hardwood lump charcoal
  • 50 lb. seasoned hardwood chunks
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • 5-gallon bucket fresh rockweed seaweed

Beer Choices: Bring the beach home with this easy, fun clambake, and match its casual mood with light-bodied brews. To keep from competing with the delicate-flavored shellfish, stick with pale or golden-hued lagers and ales. If you find them, Northeastern microbrews will add a true taste of New England to your backyard beach party. Acadia Pale Ale from Maine, Harpoon Ale and Golden Lager from Massachusetts Bay Brewing are all worth seekign out. And you can’t go wrong with Samuel Adams Boston Lager, which is widely available coast to coast. —Rosina Tinari Wilson

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