How to have a clambake
April 28, 2019 6:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm working on my goals list and one thing I've had for a while is that I'd love to go to a clambake on the beach, but I don't really know where to start.

I'm in Virginia but assume I'd be going to New England for this. I've done some searching but haven't come across anything definitive. Does anyone have suggestions for how to do this ourselves (especially where) or recommendations for a place that hosts a good one and isn't crazy expensive? I don't mind spending $100 on dinner but probably can't do that on top of staying at a place that costs $400 a night. Please help me check one more thing off my list!
posted by brilliantine to Food & Drink (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, I used to live in Northern Mass, and went to clambakes at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.

You could contact the state park and ask them about permits.

Also, here's a recipe for a garbage can clambake.

Basically, they used to dig a pit, line it with coals/or wood, then layer on seaweed, and stuff that would take longer at the bottom, other stuff at the top, and cover it up for a while.

Here's a list of places that do them, Cabbage Island looks good, it's about $70 per person and kids are served hot dogs.

Another alternative would be say, heading up to Acadia National Park and stopping in Ellsworth at the Union River Lobster Pot and getting a lobster boil.

I also love Five Islands Lobster, again, not a clambake, but you get your lobster fresh at a shack and eat it at a picnic table overlooking the ocean and the islands, it's so lovely in the summer.

Finally, if doing it all yourself is too much, there is a woman who runs a business in Maine called Your Maine Concierge. $400 seems high to me, but I don't know how many people you have, the time of year, or the locations you are looking at. Maybe she could help. You could also Google similar services in other states. Good luck, it's a fantastic experience, and I hope you get what you want.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:39 PM on April 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

I live on the south coast of Massachusetts in summers where there are often clam bakes as fundraisers and various things. I am not a clam person. However, keep en eye on the events in the local paper and if there is a clam bake event in the area (please note there is also a networking event called clam bake that is not an actual clam bake) I'd be happy to put you up so you could go to one.
posted by jessamyn at 7:49 PM on April 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

*pulls up chair and sits down*

I grew up in New England. My grandfather threw a clambake in his back yard every year on Labor Day, and kept notes on each and every bake he hosted starting in 1968 and going on until about 1996. I Know Stuff.

...The DIY approach isn't all that hard, it's just time-consuming. Basically you are trying to cook a series of different foods that all cook at different speeds, and cook them low and slow. The original way to do this was to dig a big pit on the beach and line it with rocks, then build a bonfire on top of the rocks and let it burn down. When the fire burned almost all the way down, that heated up the rocks really hot; then you lay seaweed on the rocks (that provided the steam), lay the food on top of that, covered it with a tarp and waited an hour. That's probably going to be difficult today, since bonfires are not often allowed by the authorities.

A lot of New Englanders use their back yards, though; Grandpa always did his in an enormous kettle over a fire in the back yard, using a method similar to the "garbage can" clambake Marie links above. He would put the food in at different times - we usually had potatoes, sweet corn, some fish filets, linguica sausage, maybe a couple sweet potatoes, and tons of clams; we used soft-shell clams that we'd dug on the beach ourselves the day before. Usually he'd start with a layer of seaweed, then a layer of the food that took longest to cook; wait a while, then add another layer of seaweed and another layer of food; then wait a while, more seaweed, more food; and on and on until you get to the clams. Then when the clams steamed open everything was done. The guideline in the garbage can clambake is probably wise, though, if you don't have 20 years of bake notes to go by for timing.

The seaweed not only provides moisture and steam, but also adds a briny note; so really don't skip that. If you're going the DIY approach and are wondering "how the heck do we get seaweed", I'd maybe just spring for a pack or two of kombu ( you could probably even find it at your supermarket). And if the garbage-can size bake is too many people, you could also do this in a big huge stock pot on your stove.

jessamyn is also right that there would be chances for fundraisers and civic groups hosting clambakes. They're pretty traditional communal events, so you'll find like little league teams and Elks clubs throwing bakes.

However you do this, there are a couple of things you need to know before you dig in to your clams:

* Each person should get a small cup of melted butter, and a small cup of the broth from the bottom of the pot. (If you go to a bake sponsored by a group, you'll probably be given this; if you hold your own, make sure you ladle each person out a little of the broth.) This is not to drink just yet.

* Softshell clams have two main body parts you're going to want to concern yourself with; the "belly" and the "neck". The "belly" is really more like "everything that isn't the neck", and is where the softer and sweeter meat is; the "neck" is a chewier texture, but can definitely still be eaten.

* The neck will have a membrane on it that should be peeled off before you eat it. It comes off easily; it's just like pulling off a tube sock. Once you peel off that membrane, use the neck as a handle and dip the clam in the cup of broth; then in the butter. Then into your mouth.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:08 PM on April 28, 2019 [9 favorites]

If you're flexible with not physically sitting on a beach, almost every restaurant in the Boston area and every single restaurant on the Cape has a classic New England clambake on their menu. Same with North and South Shore places--they're everywhere.

If you headed to the Cape, I'd suggest the Beachcomber in Wellfleet. You can hang on the beach then walk a few steps to the patio.

But a clambake menu offering itself is pretty typical up here.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:34 AM on April 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's important to manage expectations. A lot of summer resort areas in New England will advertise a "clambake" as a restaurant or hotel offering, but when you get there what's happening is some culinary professionals are doing the cooking while everyone stays at arm's length, and half (or more) of the stuff is done in a boiler apparatus instead of a hole in the ground. A "real" clambake would be the DIY sort described above, and your best bet as an outsider is probably to arrange it through a company that specializes in it.

Here's a list from Yankee. Many will be of the commercial type, some might promise to be closer to the experience you have in mind.
posted by Miko at 7:11 AM on April 29, 2019

If you want to throw a MeFi Meetup Clambake in driving distance from Maine, I'm in. Sadly, I can't offer to host, though I can harvest seaweed.
posted by theora55 at 7:36 AM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone! We're going to try and do the Cabbage Island one and I'll post a meetup when we're in Maine :) This also checks off one more state for my goal of visiting all 50!
posted by brilliantine at 7:05 AM on May 1, 2019

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