Thursday, July 28, 2011

Clambake Guides

New England Style Clam BakeClambakes are a nice seeming New England tradition that I have never participated in... similar in some respects to the crab feasts I grew up with in Baltimore, but with the added "cooking on the beach" vibe. Bittman provides a "recipe" (with diagram!) and some advice:
Do not underestimate your firewood needs: enough to fill the trunk of a midsize car is not too much, and any less than that might not be enough. If the beach you select doesn’t look as if it has enough, bring it. You need a very hot fire.

You also need kindling, newspapers (not virtual ones) and plenty of matches or a lighter. Other must-have items that you won’t have in the kitchen: a shovel or two to dig the cooking pit, several heavy-duty garbage bags for the seaweed, a bucket for seawater and a large canvas tarp to cover the fire. (Thick blue plastic — the stuff used in roofing — will work, but it’s not as nice.) Bring flashlights, even if you’re planning to eat before sunset — clambakes tend to run late, and cleanup in the dark is a huge hassle.

Don’t forget the usual beach and eating equipment, especially (here I name things I have forgotten): insect repellent, drinking water, a colander, potholders, dish towels, more dish towels, tongs and knives. I use cheesecloth and string to make little packages of shellfish and vegetables — they are cute beyond belief — but you can use aluminum foil (easier, cheaper, uglier) if you prefer. Also remember that lobsters don’t crack themselves, though you can smash them with rocks if you forget the nutcrackers.
Wow that's a lot of stuff to handle/keep track of. Pretty intimidating I'd say, but he also adds this sage wisdom:
Get all the help you can. Try to relax. And don’t start drinking too early. Unless you’re a veteran, something is likely to go wrong; you can roll with the punches more easily if you’re at least partly sober. Trust me.
I can speak from experience that just having a couple beers while cooking can dull your ability to react to mishaps and correct mistakes... at a mammoth undertaking like a clambake that involves open fires and white hot stones I think I would abstain until at least the food was cooking.

However, what if you want to experience a clambake without starting a fire on the beach? Well Bon App├ętit has you covered with a one pot clambake, though it's a really big pot (30 quarts!). But if you cut the recipe in half to serve four then you're down to a more manageable 8-10 quart stockpot (x2).

There's still plenty of summer left for these types of cooking adventures, but they're a little beyond my ability to plan and organize methinks.