My usual dinner party process goes like this: a day or two before a dinner party, I grab a handful of cookbooks off my towering cookbook shelf and casually thumb through them. The goal is not to frantically search for the perfect recipe, it’s to let the perfect recipe come to me. Usually that happens best when, while flipping, I meditate on who my dinner guests are going to be and, also, what foods I’m most excited to make. Which is why, on Wednesday of last week, a certain recipe from Michael Symon’s Live To Cook positively lifted itself off the page and smacked me in the face. It was a recipe for an indoor clambake and considering that I was going to be cooking for seven hungry guys for my friend John’s birthday on Friday, a more perfect recipe couldn’t have existed at that particular moment. Now all I had to do was ready myself to make it.
All you really need to make it, it turns out, is a big stockpot. That I had. Then it’s just a matter of buying the sausage and seafood and readying your table so you can dump everything on to it. That’s what makes an indoor clambake fun.
The seafood and sausage I purchased from McCall’s Meat and Fish in Los Feliz right near where I live. I made one fatal error but you won’t hear about that until later, so just keep it in your mind as a plot point that pays off in the second act.
As for the table, I took the advice of people on Twitter for protecting it. Step one: I laid down a beach towel.
(Interesting fact: we bought that beach towel in Barcelona. OK, maybe that’s not that interesting, but it’s interesting to me.)
Then, on top of that, plastic wrap which I secured down with tape.
Then a disposable tablecloth with a plastic lining:
And, finally, newspaper.
Here it is all set and ready for dinner:
Now you may be thinking: “Adam, I think you went a little overboard protecting your table.” But you people on Twitter freaked me out; you said the heat of the food might damage it. But, it turns out, the towel was dry as a bone after the clambake. I think the plastic wrap step was the most unnecessary, but everything else was pretty great. As you’ll see later, it made clean-up a breeze.
Now, the clambake. This is such a great thing to do when serving a crowd. Start by making a big bowl of flavor; this is what goes on top of all the stuff you’ll layer into your stock pot. Toast 2 tablespoons of coriander seeds until fragrant:
Do the same with 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds. Add that to a bowl with a whole onion, sliced, a whole head of garlic, the cloves peeled and sliced:
1 tablespoon red chile flakes, 2 chiles de Arbol (Michael Symon calls for 2 sliced Fresno chiles, but I couldn’t find them), 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and a lemon cut into thirds. Oh, and a bay leaf.
That’s your bowl of flavor.
Now for your stuff. Make sure your stock pot is fitted with the colander that comes with it (or whatever that part is that you lift out with the holes; the strainer?).
Here’s where I made the mistake I referred to earlier. The recipe calls for a pound of smoked kielbasa cut into 1/2-inch rings. McCall’s didn’t have smoked kielbasa so I bought their garlic paprika sausage, which is quite nice. Only, there’s an important difference between McCall’s garlic paprika sausage and smoked kielbasa: the former is RAW. And that’s what I put at the bottom of my stock pot.
So learn from my mistake: don’t use raw sausage. You’ll see why momentarily, but the good news is that it really didn’t ruin anything. And also? You can use as much as you want. If I did this again, I’d probably do a link of sausage per person.
On top of the sausage, put sweet, fresh corn. I did half a cob for each person.
Then it’s time for the clams. I bought four pounds which I soaked in a big bowl (my salad spinner bowl) with a little corn starch to draw out the grit. Here they are on top of the corn:
Finally, a pound of shrimp.
(If I did this again, I’d do two pounds of shrimp; everyone loves shrimp.)
Top with your bowl of flavor: the onions, the garlic, the chiles, the lemon, etc.
Finally, pour in a bottle of dry white wine. I used Pinot Grigio (not Ramona’s) which worked nicely.
Cover the pot, turn up the heat to high, and that’s it! Cook like that for 20 minutes or so.
You’ll know things are done when the shrimp are pink and the clams are all pretty wide open.
Now the funnest (and most dramatic) part: dumping everything on to the table. Here’s a video my friend Michael shot of that very important moment.
Did you hear that applause? That was real, though the sausage did stick. That’s because it wasn’t cooked all the way through. Still, you’d applaud if you saw this on a table, wouldn’t you?
And there was an easy fix for the sausage: everyone helped me pluck it out, put it on a cookie sheet, and finish it in a 425 oven before returning it to the table.
Look how happy my friend Kyle is; and look at how everyone’s stealing his food while he looks the other way:
An indoor clambake is a perfect thing to do in the summer if you don’t have a grill or an outside area for entertaining. I plan to do it often; only next time, I’m buying already cooked sausage.
P.S. Play this while you’re cooking.
P.P.S. I forgot to show you how easy this was to clean up. Everything gets thrown away!
P.P.P.S. I made John a strawberry shortcake (click for recipe) for his birthday dessert. I highly recommend strawberry shortcake for a clambake dessert, it’s very fitting.