There are two ways to go about enjoying this truly American event in the back yard using a kettle-style grill. One way is to steam the shellfish and their accompaniments in seaweed directly over smoldering coals; the other is to cook everything in sealed, aluminum-foil packets several inches above the coals. The first way makes a bigger mess to clean up, but the smoky, briny flavor that results approximates the beach experience more closely.
Cooking the clams and mussels in sealed packets with broth or water allows steam to get to them directly, helping them to open. You may substitute hard-shell clams for soft-shells (steamers) if you must, but they are not nearly as delicate in flavor. Some people consider it heresy to put shrimp in a clambake; the choice is up to you. (Note: Buy all seafood and shellfish in their raw state.)
Serve with plain or flavored clarified butter, cocktail sauce and garlic mayonnaise (see related recipes).
For the steamed-over-seaweed method, you will need: heavy-duty aluminum foil, parchment paper, 4 flour-sack cloths (24 by 36 inches), 8 pounds of seaweed and a large aluminum bucket; 1 cup wood chips is optional.
For the sealed-packet method, you will need: heavy-duty aluminum foil, 4 flour-sack cloths (24 by 36 inches) and 1 pound of seaweed.
Make Ahead: The potatoes can be parboiled (then cooled and refrigerated) a day in advance. The butter may be clarified and frozen a week ahead of time. The flavored butters and sauces can be made up to 2 days in advance.
- 2 pounds mussels, cleaned
- 4 pounds (10 to 12 per pound) steamer clams (may substitute 2 dozen littleneck clams)
- 1 bunch thyme
- 8 medium cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 cups clam juice (may substitute water)
- 4 to 8 12-ounce beers (may substitute water)
- 4 lobsters, 1 1/2 pounds each
- 4 ears corn, husk and silk removed
- 4 lemons
- 8 small (2/3 pound) cipollini onions (about 2/3 of a pound), or 1 large onion, any variety, peeled, and quartered lengthwise
- 8 red bliss potatoes, parboiled for 15 to 20 minutes, until just soft
- 4 (about 13 ounces) garlicky sausages, such as linguica, chorizo or andouille
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 1 pound (U-16) shell-on jumbo shrimp
- Clarified Butters for the Grill Clambake
- Cocktail Sauce for the Grill Clambake
- Garlic Mayonnaise for the Grill Clambake
For the steamed-over-seaweed method: Soak the mussels and clams in separate bowls of cold water for 30 minutes to allow them to expel any grit. (Discard any that do not close when tapped.)
Soak the seaweed in water in a large bin, placed next to the grill.
Prepare the grill. Light the charcoal in a full chimney starter (100 briquettes) and let it burn until the briquettes are just starting to turn gray and low flames are licking from the top (15 to 20 minutes). Carefully pour the coals onto the charcoal grate, spreading them out evenly using long grill tongs, and evenly place another half-chimney full of briquettes (50 count) on top of them. Allow them to burn until the briquettes are covered with gray ash (10 to 15 minutes).
Meanwhile, prepare packets of clams and mussels: Lift the clams from their water with your hands, place them in a strainer and rinse them. Do the same with the mussels.
Cut an 18-by-22 length of aluminum foil and a slightly shorter piece of parchment paper (15 inches wide). Lay the parchment paper on top of the dull side of the foil. Place a quarter of the mussels and clams in the center of the parchment. Top each portion with a few sprigs of thyme and 2 crushed garlic cloves. Seal the packet lengthwise with crimped folds, then one side widthwise. Pick up the packet so that you can pour a half-cup of clam juice into it without it spilling out; then fold and crimp the open end to seal the packet completely. Repeat with the remaining three portions of mussels and clams and refrigerate the packets while you prepare the rest of the components.
Place the flour sack cloths in a clean sink and use the contents of 2 bottles of beer to dampen them. Spread a cloth on the counter. Place a lobster, a clam packet, and an ear of corn, and a lemon in the center of the cloth and then top with the onions, potatoes, sausage, rosemary and one-quarter of the shrimp. Tie diagonal corners of the cloth together and then the other diagonal corners to make a hobo bundle. Repeat with the remaining three cloths. Place the bundles in a large metal bucket and take them to the grill.
Lift two-thirds of the seaweed from the bin, lightly shake off excess water, and spread the seaweed evenly over the coals. (It will start to pop and smoke.) Sprinkle with wood chips, if an extra smokiness is desired. (They do not have to be soaked.) Place the four bundles on top of the seaweed, with the lobsters closest to the center. Cover the bundles with the remaining seaweed and place the lid on the grill with the vents open. (If you have one, place a perforated grill pan on top of the seaweed before putting the bundles on; this will help keep the coals from scorching the flour sack cloths.)
Allow the bundles to steam for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and pour one or two bottles of beer (or the equivalent amount of water) evenly over the bundles to help keep everything moist. Cover the grill and continue steaming for another 30 minutes.
Remove the lid from the grill. Using tongs, push the seaweed to the side and open one of the bundles. The lobster should be bright red all the way through and all of the other ingredients of the packet should appear to be cooked to you. If not, rewrap the bundles loosely, recover with the seaweed, sprinkle 1 or 2 bottles of beer, cover the grill and cook for 15 minutes. (More than likely, everything will be done after 1 hour and 15 minutes, but the lobster may not be red on top; turning them over before rewrapping the bundles will help color them evenly.)
Remove the lid. Remove and discard the seaweed on the top. (Use heat-proof gloves or long grill tongs to put all of the seaweed in the bin of water in which it soaked. This assures that the fire is out.) Remove the lobsters from each bundle and place them on a platter. Open one of the clam packets. If more than a few are not open, reseal the packet and place them all directly on the coals to continue cooking while you prep the lobsters. (Or place the contents of the packets in a covered pot and finish them on the stove, and serve them in their pot.) Loosely retie the bundles, pile them into the bucket you brought them out in. To serve, place a bundle in front of each place setting.
Before serving the lobsters, use seafood shears to clip the ends of the claws by 1/2-inch. Pick each lobster up by the tail, hold it over a bowl or sink, and allow water to drain through the claws. Remove rubber bands from claws and pull of the narrow pincher from each side. Then, use a mallet or hammer to crack the claws (Cover the claw with a dish towel to keep it from splattering all over you when you do this.) Serve the lobsters with drawn butter.
For the sealed-packet method: Spread each dampened flour sack cloth on two sheets of heavy-duty foil that overlap to be an inch larger than the cloth. Place a big handful of seaweed (1/4 pound) on the center of each cloth, then a lobster, an ear of corn, 2 potatoes, 2 onions, mussels and clams (no need to make a separate packet), a sausage, some thyme and rosemary on top of the seaweed. Tie into a hobo bundle. Bring the foil up over the bundle and seal it tightly.
Prepare the charcoal in the same manner as in the first method, but place the grate above the coal and the packets on the grate. Cover and cook for 1 hour.
From columnist David Hagedorn.
Tested by David Hagedorn.
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