If you're looking for a fun way to celebrate the brisk fall weather without swimming in an ocean of prep work, consider hosting a clambake. The classic New England tradition has grown sea legs in Cleveland for the last 50 years thanks in part to its easy setup. "There's a big supply of clams available in the fall season and at the same time we're harvesting corn and potatoes," says Jim Catanese, president and co-owner of Catanese Classic Seafood. After filling a stainless steamer with a pint of water he recommends layering middleneck clams on a rack followed by chicken, sweet potatoes, corn and seasonings. "With the clams being on the bottom, all of the drippings keep the clams moist and tender by basting them," he says, adding that the lid should be secure for the ingredients to cook for about an hour. "[It's] not something that's boiled — it's something that's steamed. Every time someone opens that lid and lets the steam out, you're probably losing about 20 minutes of cook time."
Catanese Classic Seafood Clambake
- One dozen middleneck clams, washed and bagged
- 1 split chicken
- 1 sweet potato
- 1 ear of sweet corn, husked
- 2 large carrots, diced
- 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
- 2 celery sticks, diced
- King crab legs, live lobster or lobster tails, shell-on shrimp, mussels or strip steak, optional
Pick an outside location to cook that's on level ground and avoids wind. Add water to bottom of stainless steel steamer with stand and lid, level with rack insert, and add bag containing carrots, onion and celery sticks to create broth. Food shouldn't be immersed in water. Pack the steamer with clams, chicken and sweet potatoes. Place packed steamer on stand with closed lid. Ignite burner with steamer centered over it. Do not open lid.
Clams, chicken and sweet potatoes should be fully cooked after approximately 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. If finishing chicken on the grill, now is the time to remove from steamer and place on grill. Add husked sweet corn and any additional seafood or meat items after about an hour. Continue to cook for approximately 30 minutes.
Once a total of 1 hour and 30 minutes is up, remove lid, check to make sure additional items are fully cooked and reduce heat. Serve with coleslaw, rolls and butter, clam chowder and butter and claim broth to taste.
Note: Cooking time varies based on the size of the bake, intensity of heat and weather conditions.
New England Clam Chowder
- 6 dozen middleneck clams
- 1 quart clam broth
- 1 bouquet garni made with 3 thyme sprigs, 1 bay leaf and 1 bunch of parsley
- 1/4 pound bacon or pancetta, cut into 1-by-1/4-inch strips and boiled for 5 minutes, or 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 medium onions, chopped
- 3 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Soda crackers
Scrub clams, place into 4-quart pot with water and bouquet garni. Cover and bring to simmer. When all clams have opened (after about 12 minutes), remove and transfer to clean container. Strain out broth with a triple layer of cheesecloth to remove sand. Remove clams from their shell, cutting larger clams in half or quarters when necessary.
Cover and set aside.
Cook the bacon or pancetta in heavy 4-quart pot for 10 minutes or until fat is rendered (melt butter if using instead of pork). Remove pork with slotted spoon and reduce heat.
Add onions, stirring often, until translucent but not brown.
Add potatoes and liquid mixture set aside. Simmer approximately 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Add heavy cream, parsley and chives. Simmer 1 minute.
It may be hard to determine how many clams someone will eat in one sitting, but chef Dante Boccuzzi recommends preparing at least two dozen per person. "At the end of the clambake, I'll save whatever clams and broth are left," he says. "I'll use that to make clam chowder the next day, so I always order extra on purpose."
Shake up your seafood by adding andouille sausage, Old Bay spice, lemons and beer for a concoction that will have you feeling a little Dixie. "It's the perfect end-of-summer flavors," says Nolan Konkoski, executive chef of SoHo Kitchen and Bar. "It's dynamite with clams because you get the smokiness and the spiciness of the sausage, and when you add the Old Bay seafood blend, beer and lemon, you've got good acidity."
One chef makes his case for using seaweed at your next clambake.
I like to use things that are naturally found together. If you throw seaweed in your stockpot, it's going to bring out the ocean water flavor more in your broth — a briny, almost salty kind of flavor from the water that it's been in. You can also buy packages of sea kelp noodles. All you have to do is take those and soak them in water for a minute. You could get wakame, too, which is seaweed that's used more in a cold salad. Wakame is already marinated and cut up a little bit, and you can use it as a side dish to go with your clambake. — Adam Bostwick, chef and co-owner of Cork and Cleaver Social Kitchen
There's more than one way to steam a clam. Whether it's your first time out or you're an experienced pro, give one of these tried-and-true clambake techniques a crack.
Stockpot: Don't drown your clams! Create a false bottom from balls of tinfoil or invert a metal colander to
elevate the ingredients above the water. The steam will cause the clams to open up and absorb all the flavor.
Roasting Pan: If you're looking for an authentic barbecue-style bake, use this on the grill — it will capture all of the natural liquids from your ingredients as well as pick up the smokiness from the charcoal you're using.
Foil Packets: These will act as an insulating oven for steam heating — but without enough liquid inside, you'll burn your bake. Pack in all of your ingredients and add a liquid of your choice to keep the juices flowing.
Beer-soaked Cloths: Soak muslin or layers of cheesecloth in any kind of beer and wrap ingredients for single portions. You'll get more liquid control and add an additional depth of flavor while cooking with a roasting pan.