Few things in life represent late summertime better than a New England clambake. If you’re not a resident of the Northeastern United States, don’t worry, you don’t need to pack up the family for a lengthy road trip to have a proper backyard clambake.
Clambakes have been a part of the American tradition even before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Colony in 1620. According to many historical accounts, Native Americans started the backyard clambake tradition out of necessity.
Folklore says that the Natives dug holes filled with hot rocks and seaweed on the beach, and used this method to cook clams and various types of other seafood. When the Pilgrims arrived, the Native Americans taught them this useful cooking method. The clambake has been a cherished American custom ever since.
Regardless of where you live, honor this longstanding tradition by hosting your clambake party. Invite some friends over, stock up on seafood and cold drinks, and get ready to enjoy your time with good food and good friends.
No need to worry, backyard clambake décor should be fairly basic. While the success of your clambake doesn’t depend on the way you choose to decorate your backyard, there are a couple of ideas to consider incorporating to really wow your guests.
Do you have an old picnic table in the backyard that rarely gets used? Now is the time to bring it back to life. Throwing a tablecloth on the table will not only give an added aesthetic appeal, but it will also protect the table from any food or drink spills. Standard red and white checkered tablecloths are classics at clambakes, but go ahead and express your style by laying out a tablecloth decorated with lobsters, sailboats, or beach scenes.
Plastic plates, cups, and cutlery work great for backyard clambakes. Consider purchasing products that incorporate red, white, and blue shapes and designs.
Beach buckets work great for displaying soda cans and beer bottles and are also great bins to store seafood shells. Don’t forget to provide guests with lobster crackers so that they can quickly dig into all of the delicious food that is waiting for them.
Let’s talk about the best part of any backyard clambake—the food.
Have some appetizers set out for guests to snack on as they arrive to your party. Even with your appetizers, it is a good idea to stick to the seafood flavor profile. Consider making a cheese ball with crackers or seafood nachos. If your clambake is on a hot summer day, a refreshing gazpacho may be the perfect start to your meal.
For the main event, if you’re sticking with a traditional New England clambake, make sure your ingredient list includes:
- Littleneck Clams
Different clambake styles exist, so feel free to experiment a little with the ingredient list so that you find a recipe combination that suits your taste. Some recipe variations suggest incorporating a vast array of sausages, chicken, onions, garlic, shrimp, and even white wine. The possibilities are endless.
Be sure to put out some crusty bread that can be used to soak up any of the delicious broth that will be leftover from cooking. Providing ample amounts of melted butter for dipping is also a must.
If you are serving dessert at your clambake, stick with fresh flavors. Zucchini or banana bread is a simple and easy option, or a blueberry crisp can also be a sweet way to end the meal.
Part of the beauty of a great backyard clambake is the simplicity of it all. Keep this in mind when designing your drink menu.
For non-alcoholic options, pitchers of lemonades and fruit-flavored waters are great options. If you are incorporating some adult beverages, summery ales and fruity lagers are great beer compliments to any clambake meal. You may even want to try making a cocktail of iced tea, lemonade, and vodka.
You’ll have a couple of options here depending on means and preference.
If you are hosting a clambake at the beach, follow these straightforward instructions.
- Dig a hole in the sand that will be deep enough for you to build a decent-sized fire.
- Place a few logs into the hole and make a bonfire. Let the fire burn for about 45 minutes.
- Perforate the bottom of disposable, aluminum baking pans with a few holes. Place all of the clambake ingredients into the containers. Keep in mind that you may need to boil the potatoes ahead of time.
- Line the bonfire pit with rockweed; a particular kind of seaweed that holds up well in clambakes.
- Arrange the baking sheets on top of the rockweed layer
- Cover the entire pit with a tarp
- Bake for about an hour, until all ingredients have fully cooked
If digging deep holes in the beach and cooking up some seafood isn’t your style, don’t fret; you can still host an excellent backyard clambake.
- Heat up your stove or grill
- Place all of your clambake ingredients into a roasting pan, or create foil packets for the grill that are filled with the food.
- Add rockweed into the roasting pan or foil packs.
- Cook all of the ingredients over medium heat for about an hour
Alternatively, you can just boil all of your ingredients on the stove for a no-fuss cooking method.
Serve your clambake by dumping all of the cooked food onto a clean, covered table.
Some traditions state that you should eat the clams first, and then the rest of the ingredients get devoured after that. Ultimately, just decide on which method works best for you. The clambake will be delicious no matter what order you choose to eat it.
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