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Celebrate with an End of Summer Clambake

Aug 20, 2013 01:05AM ● By Erin Frisch

The New England clambake is a traditional method of cooking foods that dates back to the Native Americans. Clambakes are most often held on beaches, where a pit is dug in the sand, then filled with stones. A fire is built on coals over the stones to heat them, and when the stones are hot enough, the coals are raked away and seaweed is placed on the stones. Seafood, corn on the cob, potatoes, and vegetables are wrapped, placed atop the seaweed, then covered with more. A couple of hours later, everything is ready to eat.

Not everyone has a sandy beach for digging a clambake pit, but you can pull off similar flavors right in your backyard with your charcoal or gas grill. Decorate with beach chairs, umbrellas, and tiki torches to set the mood. Cover picnic or folding tables with newspaper for easy cleanup later, and top them with beach-themed centerpieces like baskets of seashells (available at most craft stores, if you haven’t collected any during the summer) and citronella candles to keep bugs away.

Head to the grocery store for your ingredients. Pick up clams (of course), shrimp, corn on the cob, baking potatoes, lemons, and onions—your essentials. Sausage is an option if you’d like a non-seafood protein source, and if another veggie piques your interest, add that too. Seaweed is a great way to add the classic, briny clambake flavor to your backyard version. You can usually find it at a local fishmonger, and once you get it home, you’ll want to soak it in water. If you can’t find seaweed, there are ways to improvise.

There are a couple of different methods for cooking a clambake on a grill. First, prep your food items. Cut the potatoes into one- to two-inch cubes so they’ll cook evenly with the rest of the ingredients. Remove the husks from the corn and break each ear into two or three pieces, again to ensure even cooking. Slice the onion into large pieces, slice the lemons into wedges, slice the sausage if you’re using it, and devein and peel the shrimp. For the clams soak them in a bowl of water and salt to ensure no sand is stuck in the shell. Now for the cooking methods.

● Roasting Pan. You can cook your clambake in a roasting pan placed on the grates of your charcoal or gas grill. Place seaweed on the bottom of the pan (if you have it), then add the potatoes, corn, and sausage. Cook partially before adding the seafood and other veggies around 20 minutes. Once everything is added, top with more seaweed to seal in the heat. If you don’t have seaweed, add some broth or beer when you start cooking the potatoes and corn (until there is about an inch of liquid in the pan), sprinkle on a little Old Bay seasoning and cover with foil. The seaweed’s purpose is actually to steam the food, so adding liquid and covering the roasting pan will do the same thing.

● Foil Packets. This is a great way to steam food and perfect for your clambake. The idea is largely the same as roasting, except you make individual serving packets. Use heavy-duty foil and place seaweed on the bottom, then top with potatoes, corn, and sausage (if using), and season with Old Bay. Add the seafood and veggies on top and seal the packets tightly. If you don’t have seaweed, add some broth or beer to each packet before you seal it. Grill the packets on the grates of your grill. If you’re using a charcoal grill, you can also place the packets directly on the coals.

If you’ve pulled off a successful clambake in the past, please share your tips in the comments.

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