Ah, the Fourth of July, the quintessential summer holiday. For most, this day means sweltering midday sun followed by a balmy night with a spectacular fireworks display; the smell of burgers sizzling on over the coals commingled with the acrid smoke from sparklers.
But here in San Francisco, as with most things, it’s different. In nearly 20 years living here, I could count the number of fog-free Fourths on one hand that has lost digits from a temperamental firecracker. I can scarcely remember the last time I actually saw fireworks on the Fourth, as opposed to eerie colorful glowing fog.
But that’s okay; I like our quirky, often blustry weather, and wouldn’t trade it for the oppressive heat and humidity of the other coast for all the Roman candles made in China. Still, I do find myself occasionally pining for nostalgic tastes of the Northeast. Last year, I finally sated my craving for lobster rolls. This year, on a recent visit to my mother‘s place in San Diego, we undertook another New England classic, the clambake.
Or at least, a home-ready version of one. True clambakes are typically cooked on the beach, in large pots lined with seaweed over smoldering embers from a bonfire, served by dumping the entire booty across a table covered in newsprint. Gluttony ensues.
So, sure, the stovetop version may lack that rustic charm, but you also get less sand in your teeth this way. It is no less satisfying for a summer supper, and is every bit the crowd pleaser. We took a cue from a relation back east and created individually bundled serving, wrapped in cheesecloth.
The art of the clambake, if you can call it such, is in the layering. You want to put your hardiest ingredients, such as potatoes and carrots, at the bottom, where they will cook directly in boiling liquid; your clams will be at the top, where they can gently steam.
To formalize this with measurements would be like putting on a tux at the beach. Typical ingredients include potatoes, carrots and corn in the vegetable category, some kind of sausage and even chicken, plus lobster, mussels and, of course, clams. We stuck with the basics: new potatoes, corn on the cob, hot Italian sausage, chicken thighs, and littlenecks.
Just get yourself a standard soup bowl. Lay down a large stretch of cheesecloth, folder over to form a two-ply square. Lay on your hardy veggies, followed by the corn, sausage and chicken, and finally the clams. Pull the corners together and tie off to form a neat parcel. Repeat.
You want to make sure all your parcels will make contact with the bottom of your pan to ensure they all cook through evenly; estimate four parcels for each large stockpot. Lay in your parcels, and add water and/or beer to cover about halfway, as well as about 1 Tbsp of salt and one packet of seafood seasoning (a fistful of Old Bay will do very nicely, thank you). If you have extra clams, sprinkle them over the top. Cover and put over high heat until you reach a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a constant steam for about 20 minutes. Crack one of those beers for yourself, serve and enjoy.
Lydia is all about the Old Bay.
Can’t find Old Bay? Make your own.
Lazy? Take the easy way with a clambake from Lobster Gram.