The New England Clam Bake is a traditional method of
cooking foods, especially seafood such as lobster, mussels, crabs, steamers, and
quahogs. The seafood is often supplemented by sausages, potatoes, onions,
carrots, corn on the cob, etc.
Left: New England clam bake - steamed
lobsters, clams, mussels, corn, etc.
Clam bakes are usually held on festive occasions along the
coast of New England.
A typical clam bake (or clambake) begins with
gathering seaweed at the shoreline; seaweed is an important adjunct to cooking
the food. To keep the seaweed fresh, it is necessary to have a container large
enough to hold both the seaweed and a fair amount of sea water.
Also important are several round medium-sized stones, or sometimes cannon balls,
which are heated in the fire and used to re-radiate heat during the cooking
Lastly, like most other methods of steaming, a cover is necessary to allow the
trapped heat and steam to thoroughly cook the food. Canvas tarps or potato sacks
soaked in sea water are often used for this purpose.
Once the stones and seaweed have been collected, a fire pit is prepared. Some
prefer to simply start a fire within the pit, while others line the edges with
flat stones to provide support for a metal grill on which the stones may be
The stones used for cooking are then placed in the center of the pit and a wood
fire is started, although the exact method of heating the stones varies. The
fire must burn until the stones are glowing hot. Care must be taken to ensure
that the fire will burn out shortly after this optimal cooking temperature is
achieved. The ashes are then swept off the stones and raked between them to form
an insulating "bed". A layer of wet seaweed is placed over the stones, followed
by traditional regional foods such as steamer clams, mussels, quahogs, and
lobsters. Side dishes usually include potatoes, corn on the cob, linguiça
sausages, carrots, and onions.
Alternating layers of seaweed and food are piled on top and
the entire mound is covered with canvas that has been drenched in sea water to
seal in the heat and prevent the canvas from burning. (Some may prefer to use
beer to soak the canvas, but it is unlikely to have any effect whatever on the
cooked food.) The food is allowed to steam for several hours.
Since many locales outlaw building fires on beaches, and in order to accommodate
the dish in homes or backyards, this dish is often prepared in a large pot. This
is known as a New England Clam Boil. There are some caterers that
specialize in clam bakes on the beach.