One of my favorite ways to pass a beautiful summer day is to gather my friends and family for a clam bake. Our clam bake has also become a traditional part of our Memorial Day weekend. We purchased a large outdoor burner (the kind used for frying turkeys), this way we can be outside with everyone while the clam bake does it’s thing. This can also be done on your stove top or the side burner of your grill. Nothing says summer quite like a clam bake does.
Since each clam bake varies a little, and has a different number of people in attendance, it is very hard to give specific quantities. I try to allow one dozen clams and one dozen mussels per guest. Of course there is always plenty of other food on hand. If you don’t plan on having any other food on hand, I would probably bump that up to two dozen of each per guest. This seems to work out and leave leftovers for chowder. I then use a dozen ears of corn (broken in half), one pound of red potatoes, and one pound of chorizo for every ten to twelve dozen of the clams and mussels. Sometimes I also throw in shrimp (for this batch I didn’t because one of our guests is allergic), about two pounds per ten to twelve dozen of the clams and mussels. If I plan on doing a large quantity, I do it in batches so there is always a warm batch on hand and everything cooks evenly. This estimate is my typical batch.
The first step is to clean the clams and mussels well. This is probably the most time-consuming part. Most of the clams and mussels you buy in the store these days are already fairly clean, but if necessary scrubs the outside clean of any dirt and/or barnacles. Remove the beards from the mussels if necessary. Fill the sink with cold water, and add in about ten to twelve dozen clams and mussels. Sprinkle with corn meal and allow to soak for at least a half hour. Drain, rinse and repeat. After the second soaking with corn meal, drain, rinse and fill with cold water. Leave out the cornmeal and soak for a minimum of another hour. I like to soak them for a total of two hours minimum to make sure they are not gritty. The cornmeal causes them to eat it, and expel any sand or dirt they have in them.
Next, place the corn and potatoes in the bottom of the clam bake pot (basically a LARGE steamer pot). Add enough water to just cover. Sprinkle very generously with Old Bay. You can mix and match ingredients, but please please please do not leave out the Old Bay. It’s flavors make the clam bake what it is. The bottom pot can be taken out onto the burner set to a medium flame while you prep the top pot.
The clams and mussels go into the top pot, along with the shrimp (if using) and the chorizo which has been sliced into two-inch pieces. I prefer the mexican style smoked chorizo, however you can use fresh or even substitute another type of sausage if you prefer. Once again, sprinkle generously with Old Bay. Place the top pot on the bottom pot and cover.
Steam until all of the clams and mussels have opened. For a ten to twelve dozen batch, this takes somewhere around an hour. Pour out onto a newspaper lined picnic table or large dishes like we do and enjoy!
Make sure to reserve the juice from the bottom pot for the next day’s (or sometimes the same day or night’s) chowder.
If there are leftovers (and I always try to figure enough so there will be), they make a fabulous chowder. Shuck the clams and mussels and place into a stock pot. If you used shrimp, rough chop it and add into the pot. Rough chop the chorizo and add in. Remove the corn from the cob, and dice the potatoes and add them in as well. I also add in two cans of diced tomatoes with their juice. Pour in enough of the reserved juice from the clam bake to cover and give the soup enough broth.
Allow the chowder to come up to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about a half hour until the flavors are well combined. You may need to season with some additional Old Bay, salt and pepper. Adjust the seasoning at the end to avoid over seasoning. Enjoy with some crackers or nice crusty bread. The chowder also freezes well to be enjoyed on chilly fall days.