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Master the Clambake
Christopher Watts, executive chef at Gurney's Montauk Resort, shares tips for nailing this summer favorite
The traditional clambake has deep roots dating back long before the United States even existed. The Wampanoag Indians, who lived around what is now known as Cape Cod, Massachusetts used clambakes for ceremonies. They taught settlers how to steam the clams and other seafood found off the coast as far back as the 1700s. The clambake has since evolved into a celebratory meal, shared with family and friends.
Broken Palate asked Christopher Watts about clambakes. As executive chef at Gurney’s Montauk Resort, Watts hosts multiple clambakes, making him an expert in the art.
Watts says that the clambake is often seen as a rite of summer. “We associate it with coastal regions and the availability of fresh seafood during the warmer months.”
Broken Palate: What are the key ingredients for a traditional clambake? And how can you make a clambake your own?
Christopher Watts: The key ingredients for a traditional clambake typically include:
Fresh clams: Whether it's soft-shell clams (steamers) or hard-shell clams (quahogs), they are the star of the clambake.
Lobsters: Often included as the centerpiece, lobsters add a decadent touch to the meal.
Corn on the cob: Fresh ears of corn are a staple side dish in a clambake.
Potatoes and onions: These are commonly added to the clambake to provide additional flavor and substance.
Sausages or chorizo: Some variations of clambakes include smoked sausages or chorizo for added variety.
To make a clambake your own, you can experiment with different ingredients and flavors based on your preferences and the availability of local ingredients. Consider adding mussels, shrimp, or other types of seafood to the mix. You can also incorporate different herbs, spices, and seasonings to infuse unique flavors into the meal. Additionally, you can customize the side dishes to include your favorite vegetables or incorporate local specialties to give your clambake a personal touch.
BP: Where do you get your seaweed?
CW: Seaweed, a crucial component of a clambake, can be sourced from various places:
Local seafood markets: Many coastal regions have seafood markets or fishmongers where you can find fresh seaweed specifically for clambakes. They may even have specific varieties recommended for this purpose.
Online suppliers: There are online suppliers that specialize in providing seaweed and other seafood-related ingredients. They can deliver seaweed directly to your doorstep.
Foraging: If you live near the coast and are familiar with the types of seaweed suitable for clambakes, you may be able to forage for it yourself. However, it's important to have proper knowledge of seaweed identification and sustainability practices before doing so.
We get our seaweed from the Gosman family in Montauk who sources it from local Montauk merchants providing the freshest and most sustainable products.
BP: Can you share three essential tips to make a clambake successful?
CW: Gather high-quality ingredients: Freshness is key when it comes to seafood. Make sure to source your clams, lobsters, and other ingredients from reputable suppliers or local seafood markets to ensure they are of the highest quality. Freshness greatly impacts the flavor and overall success of your clambake.
Prepare and layer your ingredients properly: Layering the ingredients in the right order is crucial for even cooking. Start with a layer of seaweed at the bottom of your clambake pit or pot, followed by a layer of potatoes, onions, and other hearty vegetables. Then add the clams and lobsters, and finally, cover everything with another layer of seaweed. This layering technique allows the steam to circulate evenly and cook the ingredients thoroughly.
Monitor cooking times and temperatures: The cooking time can vary depending on the size and quantity of your ingredients. Overcooking can lead to rubbery clams or tough lobsters, while undercooking can result in an unpleasant dining experience. Pay close attention to cooking times and use a food thermometer if necessary to ensure the seafood is cooked to the proper internal temperature.
BP: What are your favorite drinks to pair with a clambake?
CW: When it comes to drinks to pair with a clambake, there are several options that complement the flavors and ambiance of the meal. Here are a few suggestions:
White wine: A chilled white wine, such as a sauvignon blanc from Daou Vineyards, can be a delightful pairing with clambake. The acidity and fruity notes in the wine can enhance the flavors of the seafood.
Rosé: If you prefer a lighter and more versatile option, a dry or semi-dry rosé wine from Daou Vineyards, can be an excellent choice. It complements the seafood flavors while adding a touch of elegance to the occasion.
Iced tea or lemonade: Non-alcoholic beverages like iced tea or lemonade can also be refreshing options. They provide a cooling effect and complement the flavors of the clambake without overpowering them.
Canned cocktails: If you’d like to amp it up, we love Simply spiked Lemonade or a can of Fresca Mixed
Ultimately, the choice of the drink depends on personal preferences and the overall atmosphere you want to create during your clambake. Feel free to experiment and explore different options to find the perfect pairing for your taste.
If you want to experience a clambake without lifting a finger, chef Watts is partnering with Dan’s Papers for Dan’s Clambake. This traditional Montauk-style clambake is held Thursday, July 13 at Gurney’s ’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa.
This outdoor event allows you to experience a lavish clambake with ocean views. Walk around and feast on seafood from clams and oysters to a caviar bar. VIP guests will also get exclusive access to a plated lobster dinner along with premier cocktails, a beachside bonfire, an after party, and a gift bag. All tickets include food and drinks.
Purchase tickets at danstaste.com/events/clambake.