How to Prepare a Classic American Clambake
A summer staple in the Northeast, culinary historians says that the New England clambake tradition pre-dates the country itself. Hundreds of years before Europeans arrived, Native Americans dug pits on beaches and steamed lobster, clams and corn over seaweed.
While an oceanfront clambake may be steeped in tradition and nostalgia, fire bans on beaches and the hassle to transport everything to the beach make a stovetop clambake a better option.
Nautical décor, fresh seafood and well-chosen wine add up to an easygoing summer party that brings the ocean to you no matter where you live. Your guests won’t care that there’s no sand beneath their feet, and even better, they won’t find any in their food.
Jump Straight to a Recipe
Greet your guests with a spin on the classic Cape Cod cocktail, as old-school Cherry Heering adds a touch of refreshing sweetness. Look for starfish-shaped silicon ice molds at kitchen supply or party stores.
- 16 ounces vodka
- 4 ounces Cherry Heering liqueur
- 48 ounces cranberry juice
- 1 orange, sliced, for garnish
- Starfish-shaped ice cubes, for garnish
Combine vodka, cherry liqueur and cranberry juice in large punch bowl. Mix well. Garnish with orange slices and ice cubes. Serves 8.
Keep your starter simple. This basic salad is dressed up with buttery crabmeat and a spicy, creamy Old Bay salad dressing to complement the seafood.
- 4 ounces butter lettuce, torn into small pieces
- 2 medium carrots, cut into small matchsticks
- 8 radishes, sliced paper thin
- ¾cup Buttermilk Old Bay Dressing*
- 8 ounces lump white crabmeat
In large bowl, toss lettuce, carrots and radishes. Divide into 8 dishes. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Top each with dressing and 1 ounce crabmeat. Pass additional dressing at the table. Serves 8.
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon Coleman’s dry mustard powder
Whisk together all ingredients in medium glass bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use. May be made 1 day in advance.
When the time comes to sit down at the table, start your clambake with a bright California bubbly. The toasted apple flavors and creaminess of Gloria Ferrer’s NV Brut from Sonoma County hold up to the richness of crabmeat on top of greens with a buttermilk salad dressing.
A traditional New England clambake is prepared by steaming the lobsters, other shellfish and vegetables together in a fire-fueled sandpit. Most people, however, pull out their largest pot (or two) and make it on the stove or outdoor grill. You’ll need a large pot—about 30 quarts—or you can divide the ingredients evenly between two 16-quart pots. Just make sure the lobsters will fit.
- 1 bottle (750 ml) crisp white wine
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 pound small Red Bliss potatoes
- 1 pound small white or Yukon Gold potatoes
- 1 pound small blue potatoes
- 8 live lobsters, approximately 1¼ pounds each
- 8 ears corn on the cob, shucked
- 4 celery stalks, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 bunch fresh thyme, tied
- 2 pounds mussels, cleaned
- 2 pounds Little Neck clams, cleaned
- 1½ pounds jumbo (21/25) shell-on shrimp
- 1 pound butter, melted
- 4 lemons, cut into wedges
Place lobsters in freezer. Add 2 inches water, bottle of wine and salt to pot. Use steaming rack if available. Bring to rolling boil over medium-high heat or fire. Add potatoes, and cook for 5 minutes.
Quickly place lobsters into pot. Secure lid with 5-pound weight. Cook for 10 minutes. Add corn, celery, thyme, mussels, clams and shrimp. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove from burner and let rest for 5 minutes. Divide among two or three large serving platters. Remove thyme bundle, and serve with melted butter and lemon wedges. Serves 8.
Just because this is an American tradition, it doesn’t mean you have to limit your wine choices to domestic bottles. An international assortment of wines allows your guests to choose their favorite, and it also encourages conversations about different pairings.
White: Cloudy Bay 2016 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough has a bright grapefruit flavor, with a hint of grassiness and a crisp, clean feel that’s perfect with seafood prepared in a simple manner.
Rosé: A glass of rosé from the South of France is the quintessential summer pour, and Gérard Bertrand’s 2016 Cote des Roses Grenache-Cinsault-Syrah Rosé from Languedoc fits the bill with light cherry flavors, floral notes and an orange-peel finish.
Red: Soft red fruit flavors, light tannins and good acidity make the Faiveley 2014 Bourgogne Pinot Noir ideal for red-wine-drinkers who remain loyal, no matter the menu. Chill it a bit for added refreshmen
Strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream are an enticing trifecta of color perfect for the Fourth of July. The berries and cream can be sandwiched between shortbread halves just before serving, or for a hands-on experience, guests can assemble their own shortcake.
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 stick cold butter, cut into chunks
- 1 pint, plus 1 cup heavy cream; more as needed
- 1 pint fresh strawberries, stemmed and sliced
- 2 pints fresh blueberries
- ½ cup, plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- Zest of 1 lemon
- ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
Heat oven to 400˚F.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 2 tablespoons sugar in large glass bowl. Combine the butter and dry ingredients with hands until consistency of coarse pebbles. Slowly add 1 cup cream. Mix with wooden spoon until ball forms, drizzling in more cream if needed. Divide into eight equal pieces. Gently shape into rounds. Bake on nonstick baking sheet until tops are golden brown, 13–16 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool. May be made 1 day ahead and stored in airtight container.
Toss blueberries, strawberry slices, ½ cup sugar and lemon zest in glass bowl. Set aside for 2 hours.
To make the whipped cream, chill mixing bowl and beaters in freezer at least 30 minutes. Whip 1 pint cream on medium speed for 2 minutes, slowly pouring in confectioner’s sugar, and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Do not over-whip.
Cut shortcakes in half. Place bottom half on medium-sized dessert plate. Top each with 3–4 tablespoons of strawberry-blueberry mixture. Spoon whipped cream over fruit. Top with other half of shortcake. Serve immediately. Serves 8.
The blue compass-like star on the bottle of Roscato’s NV Sparkling Moscato adds an ocean-going note to your table. Its soft florality and white peach flavor are a natural alongside buttery shortbread, berries and whipped cream.
Even if you live miles from the shore, improvise with touches of the sea, such as driftwood, seashells and beach glass. White paper bags or large lanterns that contain white candles (or LED candles) add a soft atmosphere that lobster string lights—as fun as they are—lack.
Use large white platters or trays, either plain or simply decorated in nautical tones, to show off your brightly colored shellfish, corn and potatoes. Include large serving spoons and forks for easy service. Provide each guest a ramekin filled with melted butter, and place a few small plates of lemon wedges around the table.
Disposable seafood bibs are equal-opportunity clothing protectors, no matter how dressed up or down your guests are (find retro-styled bibs online). For clean up, offer guests a refreshing, cool white washcloth. Soak the washcloths in water infused with lemon juice, wring them out, roll and store on a tray in your refrigerator until ready to use.
- 1The Cape Cod Cocktail
- 2Salad with Old Bay Dressing
- 3New England One-Pot Clambake
- 4Strawberry-Blueberry Shortcake
- 5Home Entertaining Tips