Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rhode Island Steamer Clambake

My husband suggested a strategy to publicize the blog and have opportunities to serve stuff he either can't or won't eat, like shellfish, eggplant and rhubarb. We should have monthly parties, complete with invitations telling about the blog to draw in more readers. Saturday night we had the first of the parties.
It occurred to me when trying to decide what to have that this steamer clambake would be a perfect end of summer party. Our house has a terrace and a reasonably nice back yard, but we don't use it all that much. So here was sort of an informal, messy meal, to be eaten largely with the fingers, just right for the out of doors. And so it was.
There were certain challenges to be overcome. First, there was the pot. The recipe starts, "Place the water in the bottom of a twenty-quart steamer," an item that we did not happen to possess. The closest, and only cookware store in our neighborhood is a swish place with a French name. The purchase of a twenty-quart steamer would probably require a home equity loan. I tried our community list serv. Not even a nibble. Last weekend, my daughter went to Ocean City with instructions to look for a pot. Her call letting me know she found one was a high spot in the weekend, spent largely on my back.
Then there was the issue of who would eat what. My husband can't eat shellfish. Son's fiance's mother doesn't like it. The recipe calls for steaming a chicken quarter for each diner. The instructions for packing the pot put the chicken at the bottom and the seafood on top. I decided that having clams and lobsters dripping their juice on the chicken was not a great idea. Consequently I decided to grill the chicken.
Then, there was being laid up all week from falling off the horse. This made things like shopping and cleaning difficult if not impossible. Son, who is waiting for his security clearance for his federal job, pitched in with the vaccuuming. When the checker at Safeway asked if I needed help going out to the parking lot, I said yes for the first time in my life.
Finally, there were the lobsters. I got them at the fish store, and carried them home in a paper bag. They were lively buggers, flicking their tails and waving their antennae. Now I knew that they had to be kept alive, so I prevailed upon my husband to get the galvanized steel tub from the garden to house them until dinner. "Lobster murderer!" my daughter hissed. I plopped them into the tub one by one where they stayed until the guests had assembled.
At eight o'clock, with the guests chatting on the terrace and the rest of the dinner steaming on the stove, my son looked suspiciously at the tub and poked it with his foot. "When did you get these?"
I shrugged. "Three o'clock."
"You're not supposed to put them in fresh water." he said in an outraged whisper. "What did they come in?"
I was starting to get irritated at Mr. Knowitall, as well as pierced by a fear that the $139 worth of lobster would either have to be thrown away or kill my guests.
"They came in a paper bag, Thomas. I couldn't leave them in that. What was I supposed to do?"
"Get them when you're ready to cook them," he said in tones indicating that I was a moron.
"They're dead," he announced. "Do you want me to find out whether or not you can cook them?"
"Yes," I snapped.
He came back two minutes later and whispered, "These need to be boiling right now."
They were dead all right. We lifted the lifeless corpses, claws dangling, out of the tub and plunked them into the canning pot. As always, he had the last word.
"If I die of food poisoning, I'm going to be really pissed," he hissed.
Well, as of 1:00 pm Sunday afternoon, neither he nor I nor anyone else at the party that I know of has contracted food poisoning. And it was a great party. The nine of us had seven bottles of wine and a lot of animated conversation.

Rhode Island Steamer Clambake

6 cups water
seaweed or wet celery, lettuce and or spinach (I used spinach.)
3 broiler-fryer chickens split
6 unpeeled medium size baking potatoes
6 unpeeled medium size onions
6 ears corn in husks, soaked in salted water one hour
48 small clams
4-6 one-pound lobsters
melted butter

1. Place the water in bottom of a twenty quart steamer. Cover with upper section and place a generous layer of wet, well-rinsed seaweed or greens in the bottom.
2. Wrap the chicken pieces in cheesecloth, tie corners and place on top of seaweed or greens. Wrap five of the potatoes similarly and place on chicken. Wrap the onions and place on chicken.
3. Wrap the corn in cheesecloth and place on top of potatoes, and then the clams wrapped in four bundles of a dozen each, and last the lobsters in cheesecloth.
4. Top ingredients with more seaweed or wet greens. Place remaining potato in middle and cover.
5. Steam until potato on top is cooked, about one and one-half hours; that means the bake is ready to pull.. Serve with melted butter.
Makes six servings.

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