All the flavors of a traditional New England Clambake in a bowl of chowda!As a New Englander, I have been to traditional clam bakes on many occasions, usually festive events such as a wedding or reunion, anything from four people to several hundred, and what a time it is! A fire pit is dug, if you’re lucky on a beach. Large rocks are placed on top, the fire stoked until the stones are burning hot, and then wet seaweed is added to create great steam to cook everything. Layers of seaweed and all the ingredients are then covered with wet burlap or a tarp. Always clams, potatoes, corn, and sausage, and often lobster, mussels, and shrimp as well. It’s a waiting game until it’s ready, then the layers are peeled back like opening a present. The steaming is gentle, but effective; I’ve never been to one where anything was overcooked! Melted butter is passed around in abundance, we eat with our fingers, and delight in fresh local shellfish and accompanying vegetables.
A feast to rememberWhile this is a feast to remember, more often than not we make a simpler clambake (technical a clam boil, but we still call it a clambake) in our own backyards and kitchens in a tall stock pot. Water is added to the pot along with herbs and spices (don’t forget the Old Bay) and we add everything in order of how long it takes to cook. First, potatoes and onions, cook for a few minutes, then sausage, corn, lobster, cook a little more. Clams go in next, followed a few minutes later by the shrimp and mussels. If outside, we put newspapers or a plastic cloth on the picnic table and fish out all the food with a large spider and everyone digs in. We don’t forget to serve up cups of the delicious cooking broth for dunking the clams and drinking! If inside, we simply fish out all the food with a big spider and place on a platter, with the clam broth served alongside in mugs.
Tastes just like a clambake!This chowda (pardon the New England accent) combines all the flavors of a traditional clambake, in one bowl of soup! I made mine simply this time around, using just the clams for shellfish because I wanted the flavor of the clams to shine through without competition from their relatives! Another day, I might have added some lobster, or shrimp, possibly mussels. This will, of course, change the flavor of the broth, as well as the expense, but it will be heavenly in a completely different way! The best clams for a clambake are steamers, small quahogs, or littlenecks. They are all delicious, and we can usually find at least one of these at our fish markets here!
Lots of optionsYou can make this with light cream or with coconut milk if you want it dairy free, but I don’t make a thick roux to thicken it; I think the heaviness of the flour and extra fat masks the flavor of the seafood. You can use any sausage you like, sweet or hot, or substitute soy sausage links if you want to avoid meat products. You can even leave it out altogether! You will want to use a firm potato so it keeps its shape while cooking. This time, I used colorful pink, purple, and yellow fingerlings, but little red potatoes work great as well.
New England Clambake Chowda!
- 3 lbs. fresh littleneck or steamer clams in shell
- 2 large onions, diced, divided
- Small bunch of parsley, stems and minced leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ tsp. Old Bay seasoning
- Black pepper
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 lbs. Italian sausage, large chunks, or soy sausage links
- 1 leek, sliced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 ½ lbs. fingerling or small red potatoes, diced
- 2 ears fresh corn on cob, halved
- 1 pint light cream
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