A New England clambake is one of the most well-known dishes in America. The history of the clambake dates back over 2,000 years to Native Americans in Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut. Even today, you can find fragments of the original cooking pits in Rhode Island.
There are many versions of this recipe across the United States. From Ohio to California, there have been many adaptations. Some clambakes are even produced in personal kitchens. However, unless the kitchen involves a beach and sand, it is not a true New England clambake. To discover the true beauty of this treasured New England tradition you will need the proper elements, time, and a great community of people to savor the results.
- Elements. The first thing you will need is a pit dug into the sand. A beach is the ideal place. Usually pits are at least three feet deep and five feet wide. Once the pit has been dug out, line it with a layer of seaweed. Next, line it with nonporous dry rocks. These rocks should be relatively big, about the size of a small soccer ball.
- Warm it up. Once the pit is ready, the next step is to heat it up. Driftwood or hardwood are best to use. Preparing the pit for cooking can take several hours. The average time is four hours for the rocks to heat to the desired temperature. Once completed, rake the rocks and wood.
- Layer it. The first layer is seaweed. You will alternate layers of each element of the clambake with seaweed — this is integral to a clambake. Clams are the first ingredient after the seaweed has been laid down. The next layer is lobster, then potatoes and finally, corn.
- Seal and set. Once the ingredients are in the pit, seal it with a canvas tarp. Look around for more heavy rocks to secure the tarp in place. The seal is important to make sure the steam does not escape during the cooking process.
- Check in. Be sure to check occasionally on the clambake. Once the lobsters are a bright reddish-coral color, the potatoes are soft and the clams are fully open, the clambake is ready.
At this point, get ready to dig out the meal. Lay newspaper on the table. This is a very informal meal. Dishes are not necessary, but melted butter is. Be sure to have lots of butter available, because it goes quickly. The butter can be melted by placing it in a metal pot over the steam pit while the clambake is cooking. The melted butter is normally drizzled over each individual dish, then offered as a side to dip the lobster in.
Along with the clambake, make sure cold refreshments are on hand. A traditional New England clambake is usually accompanied by beer. Many prefer a light ale to complement the seafood. However, a new trend is New England hard cider, such as Boston's own Harpoon Cider. White wine is another alternative. Usually a crisp chardonnay with a butter undertone pairs well. For a non-alcoholic option, lemonade makes a great match.
Though the New England clambake is certainly not an elegant meal, it is a memorable one. It is one meal that embraces and celebrates the beauty of summer, family, friends and the goodness of the sea.