Throwing a Clambake

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Executive Chef Chris Opper from Food For Thought, one of Chicago’s premier caterers, has helpful tips on throwing a clam bake for the Fourth of July:

  • The Old-Fashioned New England Clambake:
    • A clambake is a steaming operation using a fire pit in which damp seaweed (preferably rockweed) produces steam that flavors the clam.
    • You line a fire pit with rocks and then use hardwood for the fire to start the fire.  Then you let it blaze for a couple hours, rake away the wood and layer seaweed on top of the rocks.
    •  On top of the seaweed, you place your washed unopened clams and any other items you want to cook and cover with a heavy canvas for about an hour.
  • The Barbecue Clambake:
    • This is a great option for those who don’t have a fire pit.  Instead, this technique uses the grill to bake the clams. 
    • You start off with the largest pot or pots you can find and line the bottom with wet seaweed. 
    • Wash your clams and any other items like potatoes or husked corn, followed by another layer of seaweed. 
    • Add water and cover tightly. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to steam the food and then cook for about 1 1/2 hours. You can tell it's done when the clam shells open.
  • Clambake in a Pot:
    • If you wake up on the Fourth and it’s raining, fear not – You can still cook up a delicious clambake inside! 
    • Using the same concept as cooking on the barbecue, use a steamer pot and cook up your clams right in your own kitchen.
  • A nice mixed green salad like this one on set goes nicely with a chive vinaigrette and is a great pairing with a clam bake
  • And who doesn’t like an old-fashioned corn muffin!  They’re a great choice for a side because they are easy to make and don’t need any heating or refrigeration.
  • What clam bake is complete with out dessert?  This Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream adds a perfect touch of sweet and tart to top off a delicious meal.
  • Beer is a great pairing with a clam bake.  Try one like Matilda,  Belgium Style Ale from Goose Island.
  • 2 pounds medium fingerling potatoes, red or white
  • 4 ears corn, husked
  • 2 pounds steamer clams, scrubbed
  • ½# Spanish Onion, Cut into ¼’s
  • ½# Carrots, cut into 2” pc’s
  • 1 1/2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
  • 1 pound Spanish-style chorizo cut crosswise into 4 pieces (andouille or smoked kielbasa sausage can be substituted)
  • 4 (1 1/4 pound) live lobsters
For Cooking
  • 4 large mesh bags or 4 pouches made from several wide layers cheesecloth
  • Kitchen twine
  • Large pot (5 or more gallons) with tightly-fitting lid
  • Fresh Sea weed or steamer rack
For Serving
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • Old Bay seasoning
  • 4 lemon wedges
Place potatoes in large saucepan; cover with cold water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook just until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain well. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate until well chilled
Into each bag or cheesecloth pouch, put: 2 potatoes, l ear corn, 1/4 of steamers, 1/4 of mussels, 1 piece sausage, 1 lobster. Gather bags or pouches together and tie closed with kitchen twine.
Fill 5-gallon pot with 1 inch of water and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add steamer rack or enough seaweed to keep clambakes elevated. Cover and bring to rolling boil.
Gently layer bags in pot. Nestle egg in a central position where it's easily retrievable. Cover tightly and steam 15 minutes, maintaining water at full rolling boil. Uncover pot, set aside extra egg, and gently rearrange bags from top to bottom to promote even cooking. Replace egg and re-cover pot.
Steam additional 5 minutes, then retrieve extra egg and crack open. If it's hard-cooked, clambakes are done. If egg is not yet cooked, steam bags an additional 5 to 10 minutes., When done, lobsters will be completely red. Transfer each bag to large plate and serve immediately.
To serve, divide melted butter among 4 small cups and season to taste with salt. Ladle some broth from pot into 4 small bowls. Cut open bags. Discard any steamers or mussels that have not opened and loosely arrange food on plates. Sprinkle with Old Bay seasoning. Place one cup of butter, one dish of broth, and one lemon wedge on each plate.
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