An Old Fashioned Down-Easter Clambake

Tired of cooking hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill for the 4th of July? Maybe it’s time to try a New England clambake.

Real hardy New Englanders do a clambake on a beach, but you can do one at home in your yard. A clambake is a steaming operation in which damp seaweed (preferably rockweed) produces steam for flavor.

An old fashioned down-easter clambake

In the morning a circular pit is dug out in the sand. It is an oval shape about three feet long. The hole is lined with rocks around and underneath it. A fire is started using lots of hardwood. It blazes for about two hours. Then all the blazing wood is raked away and a 6 inch layer of wet seaweed is placed on top of the rocks. It will be very hot but not a fire.

On top of the seaweed is put washed unopened clams, live lobsters, corn on the cob (husks on) in cheesecloth if available, potatoes and any other items you want to cook. Some people add chicken and others add hot dogs. The entire feast is covered with a heavy canvas. It is left for about an hour and then unveiled.

Clambake on the barbecue

Sounds good but for those of us who are not going to spend the 4th of July on the beach, it can still be done. You can have a party and do a clambake right on your grill or fire pit.

  • Clams
  • Lobster
  • Corn on the cob
  • Potatoes
  • Wet seaweed
  • Butter

You need the largest pot or pots you can find. Put the wet seaweed on the bottom of the pot. Then place washed clams, lobsters and scrubbed potatoes, husked corn if you wish (see next section) in the pot. Then put another layer of seaweed (ask for rockweed seaweed at fish market). Add about three quarts of water and cover tightly. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to steam the food. Then cook for about 1 1/2 hours. You can tell it’s done because clam shells should be opened.

You can do several pots if you have a large grill or do the procedure several times during the party if you wish. I would not do this if you have a lot of people and a small barbecue.

If lobster is too expensive or not liked, do just the clams, potatoes and corn. Cook hot dogs, chicken or whatever you wish on the barbecue as well.

Barbecued corn on the cob

If you do not put the corn in the pot, you can cook it on the grill. First, place the corn cobs in water (husks on) for at least one hour. It must be very wet. Then just stick it on the grill for about 1/2 hour.

A great way to dress a clambake up for a party is to have fishnet over a red, white and blue cloth with shells, driftwood and floats decorating the table. For the 4th of July anything nautical or red white and blue works great.

You will need plenty of nutcrackers for the lobster (at least 1 for every two people) as well as individual melted butter bowls. Lobster bibs, tons of napkins, water bowls, extra plates for shells and wet cloths will also help.

We, New Englanders, usually finish off the feast with a simple dessert of watermelon slices and hot coffee if available. Also, keep plenty of cold beer, soda or water on hand.

This feast could quickly become a favorite or a new holiday tradition so give it a try and let me know how it goes.

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