There is much debate about what goes into the traditional clambake in Maine — especially among my family members, who claim to have been hosting them for at least 140 years (this is subject to opinion and radically swings in terms of longevity depending upon which family member you happen to ask).
But when pressed, they were able to (generally) concur on a list of basic necessities — and those I share with you here.
Location, location, location: the first factor is where to host the clambake (we tend to hit a beach on a family member’s property, but fire pits have been deemed perfectly acceptable substitutes).
Time and Tide: the second factor is time, combined with tidal consideration. The clambake is no short cocktail party affair (which is not to say it doesn’t involve cocktails — see below for beer and wine pairing suggestions). You should budget at least 6-8 hours for prep, cooking and eating. If you happen to be on a beach in Down East Maine, that means you’ll have the swing of the tide to contend with — so make sure you build your fire above the tide line.
Think Picnic Blanket, not White Linen: Your clambake could, in fact, be a 7-course meal (when you add in the layers of the Maine ‘bake as well as any appetizers or dessert you include), but this will be a blanket, paper plates, plastic glasses kind of dining experience (unless you have a fabulous pre-assembled picnic basket at your disposal). Make sure you plan appropriately for all the cutlery, serving and eating utensils you might need.
Cocktail Pairings: In the “keeping it simple” category, I’m offering a couple beer and wine recommendations, based on lobster as a main course (because, why would you have anything else?). Lobster is a very decadent dish, but translates as delicate for pairing purposes.
On the beer front, both Belgian witbiers or hefeweizens and German-style pilsners match and enhance the flavors of lobster (and contain citrus notes, to augment your dinner if you happen spritz your lobster with a lemon squeeze).
On the wine front, a Chablis or Spanish Verdejo (preferably served very cold — you could consider chilling in nearby Atlantic waters) offer a crisp, refreshing companion to clambake dining.
And with those bits of wisdom shared and without further ado, I give you…
The (Official, Unofficial) Curtis Clambake
- Large beach stones (to serve as the cooking mechanism as well as hold the tarp securely in place)
- Enough seaweed to fill several large garbage bags
- 10’x10′ plastic tarp (used to cover/steam the food)
- Food ingredients:
- Live lobsters, clams and/or mussels;
- White sausage and potatoes (sweet, Yukon or baby), wrapped in foil; and
- Unshucked green corn;
- Fresh lemon slices and melted butter, for serving.
- Build a large pile of stones on the beach (or in a firepit).
- Build a fire on top of the stones and keep it going until the stones are hot enough to cook with (about 3 to 4 hours).
- Cover cooking stones with a layer of seaweed.
- Place a layer of lobsters on the layer of seaweed, and then cover with another layer of seaweed.
- Layering as you go, place mussels and clams on the seaweed, then follow with another layer of seaweed. Next, place sausage and potatoes wrapped in foil, as well as unshucked corn on the seaweed, and cover with a final layer of seaweed.
- To cook, cover everything with a plastic tarp and bank around it with stones, ensuring the heat is trapped inside.
- Cook for 2-3 hours.