Cheers to clambakes!

You know, the list of things you would like to experience before you kick the proverbial bucket? Well, I’m not sure if anyone else has ‘clambake’ on their list, but it features on mine. It’s the kind of thing I’d be predisposed towards: seafood + fire + socialising. (Click here to see the blow-by-blow photographs on Flickr.)

A clambake is a distinctly New England tradition and I can’t even remember when the idea first percolated into my consciousness. There are simply clambake moments. Like when I complimented the late Ted Kennedy on the clam chowder he had served at an event in DC, and he quipped that a clambake was the truer measure of regional cuisine. Martha Stewart stoked my clambake longing with features in ‘Living’ magazine. Not to mention innumerable casual references to clambakes made by acquaintances.

So the clambake has been on the list for at least the past 15 years. I’ve been extremely keen to experience one, but prohibitions on fires on the beach or concerns about the effort involved by those who would be drafted into it always prevailed. Until now.

Host T evaluates the state of the coals and boulders in the fire pit.

When our friends R,T&R invited us to their beautiful new Montauk beach house for the weekend, I boldly suggested a clambake. T is the kind of person who can make any culinary thing happen, so it was with jubilation that I read her positive response. Excitement mounted over the days, along with e-mails about fire pits (they had already built one), seaweed and tarpaulins.

Today was our designated clambake day, and we were doing it right. Best of all, the other guests were committed to the idea. The previous nights we had harvested seaweed along the beach during midnight strolls. So the late morning saw the fire being started and Jay and Calvin heading off with the wheelbarrow to source some Montauk boulders. The boulders went into the coals to get super heated, once the many logs had burnt down.

Everyone did something. Calvin helped with the fire, rocks and lobsters, but sadly politely decline a plate of any of it.

Back in the kitchen, an assembly line was in full force: cheesecloth packages of fresh Little Neck clams, mussels, shrimp, potatoes, onions, carrots and chorizo sausage were being put together, corn was being de-silked but husks retained. The live lobsters were subdued.

With all the components ready to go, the hours of preparation switched to a fast forward pace. In with the seaweed, the lobsters, corn, seafood packages, more seaweed, white wine and seawater. On with two layers of canvas tarpaulin, and weighing down the edges of the tarp to trap the steam and heat to cook the food. 45 minutes later, my dream was deliciously realised.

Conclusion? A clambake was well deserving of its place on my bucket list. It turned out to be an epic epicurean experience,  but one only made possible and pleasurable by the hosts and fellow guests.





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