It takes coordination, time, and effort to produce a pit full of perfectly steamed littlenecks and lobsters. But a little elbow grease will seem like a small price to pay when you and your guests are happy as a clam… bake.
Step 1: Pick your day A few weeks in advance, pick your party day, and invite 10 to 12 of your nearest and dearest.
Step 2: Get permission Long gone are the days of impromptu beach bonfires. Before you start, get the necessary permits by contacting your local park service, fire department, or city office.
Step 3: Dig a practice pit Nothing's worse than a soggy dinner, so you'll want to put your cooking pit above the high-tide line. Digging a practice hole a few days in advance ensures you'll be out of the water's reach, and will give you an idea of what your dig time will be.
TIP: Your pit will need to be about two feet wide by four feet long by two feet deep.
Step 4: Gather rocks, wood, and seaweed Get enough grapefruit-sized rocks to line the bottom of the pit, and enough dry hardwood to sustain a hot fire for several hours. You'll need roughly 20 pounds of fresh seaweed, or enough for two thick layers. It's best if you use rockweed, but if not, douse your seaweed with extra seawater.
TIP: Rockweed, which has small pockets of seawater that add moisture and flavor, can be found on the beach, purchased from a fishmonger, or ordered online at sites like "vitaminseaseaweed.com":http://vitaminseaseaweed.com.
Step 5: Obey the health code Your ingredients -- especially the clams, lobsters, and sausage -- will need to survive hours of beach weather without spoiling. Buy live fish on the day of the party, and transport it using insulated coolers with an internal temperature between 32 and 38 degrees. Store the fish (along with your veggies and chorizo) in a shaded spot.
Step 6: Get your fire going On the day of the party, dig your pit, line it with rocks, and stoke a hardwood fire on top of the stones. Feed the fire as necessary to keep it burning hot for about two hours. Let it burn down for about another two hours, or until the wood becomes coals.
TIP: At the end of this process, the rocks should be about 400 degrees.
Step 7: Prep your food Right before your fire finishes burning down, wrap each kind of food -- except the lobsters and corn -- in its own foil or cheesecloth pack. Discard any shellfish that are already open. You'll be able to move faster if you enlist your guests to help with this part.
Step 8: Add rockweed Shovel excess coals into a bucket of water, leaving a thin layer of hot coals on top of the rocks. Cover them with a layer of rockweed, using about half your supply.
TIP: Keep a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, and a separate water bucket nearby.
Step 9: Add the food Throw on your oven mitts, and add the clams, mussels, lobsters, corn, potatoes, onions, and chorizo in a single layer. Layer on the remaining rockweed. Cover the entire pit with canvas tarps that have been saturated with seawater, and anchor on all sides.
Step 10: Bake Your food should take an hour or two to reach perfection, but start checking on it after about 45 minutes. In the meantime, grab a cool drink and party with your guests.
Step 11: Serve When the clams and mussels are open, the lobsters are red, and the veggies are soft enough to mash with a fork, remove everything from the pit. Serve with tons of melted butter, and revel in the deliciousness of your clambake.
FACT: In 2007, scientists found a 405-year-old clam off the coast of Iceland.