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Clambake

Rob Conery
From the Print Edition:
Jay-Z, May/June 2009

Not in any way to demean the experience of dining in a fine seafood restaurant, but if you have friendly weather, a place to do it and the makings, nothing quite matches the authentic Cape Cod clambake. The smell is fantastic. Puffs of smoke waft from the edges of the tarp and hint at what's to come. And then you consume the fruits of the sea, the way they were meant to be taken: alfresco. It's a tradition that dates to the native Wampanoags, who perfected the method of slow-cooked seafood heaven on the Cape. But wherever your beach, you and a few of your buddies can pull off a clambake this summer.

You'll want some two-pound lobsters and about a dozen soft shell clams (steamers) per person, plus assorted corn, red potatoes, mussels and/or littleneck clams. Linguica sausage is optional. Bag the little stuff in cheesecloth; it'll be much easier to dig out later.

Start with the stones. You'll need some fist- to toaster-sized rocks. Dig a pit in the sand about 18 inches deep and line with rocks. Then build a good, hot fire. Scrounged pallets work well. Feed the fire, the hotter the better. As it burns down, it heats the rocks.

On the low tide preceding your bake, gather enough rockweed to fill your pit. The little sacs on this pale yellow seaweed are full of saltwater that burst and steam when heated.

After a few hours, the rocks will be hot. Rake away the coals and ash. Layer in a few inches of rockweed. Then spread in your lobsters, alternating layers of food and more seaweed. Now cover the whole pit with a wet canvas tarp. (Synthetic tarps will work in a pinch, but even if they don't melt, they can discolor the food.)

Ring the tarp with leftover rocks for a tight seal. Now it's time to crack a few beers or a nice Pinot while your food steams in the briny beach oven. Drink up. You have an hour. Maybe two.

Peel back a section of the tarp and grab a sample lobster. They're done when they're bright red. (An antenna that pulls off easily is a good indicator of readiness.) If the lobsters are done, so is everything. Plate with plenty of drawn butter. Serve your guests while the sun goes down and you share an ambrosial seafood feast by—and from—the sea.

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