Have you ever been to a Cape Cod clambake? Cape Cod clambakes on the beach are a New England tradition. Clambake parties are for eating freshly cooked seafood on the beach and hanging out with friends and family on Cape Cod. Alternatively, host a clambake party at home either on vacation or when you miss vacation! We’ve got an easy kitchen clambake menu and two tried and tested clambake party recipes to help you get the party started. If you want the easiest option, we have suggestions for catered clambakes on Cape Cod.
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New England Clambakes
A clambake on Cape Cod, ok, really a New England clambake if you will, is a New England tradition. Apparently, clambake menus are really popular in the Midwest too but here we focus on the venerable New England clambake, Cape Cod version.
New England clambakes are the crowning masterpiece of seafood banquets. Clambake parties are a classic social dining gathering in New England during which all kinds of seafood are cooked together.
A clambake party is the natural end result of cooking so much food that you need large groups of people to enjoy the feast. There’s no such thing as a clambake for one!
The most traditional clambakes are cooked outside in a pit using heated stones and a bed of seaweed to enhance the flavor. Other veggetables, like sweet corn and potatoes, or meat like chicken and sausage, are also often thrown into the medley.
Cape Cod Clambake
If you’re looking for a traditional New England foodie experience, you can’t get any more authentic than a Cape Cod clambake on the beach.
The real-deal clambakes are always outside and on the beach. The clams, other seafood morsels, meat, and veggies are all steamed in a pit using heated rocks and seaweed.
You can also do a clambake using a steamer pot on the stove. If you’d rather be outside, here’s a clambake recipe that uses a standard gas grill in your backyard.
Even easier, a clambake caterer can do all the hard work for you and you can just enjoy your clambake party. Some clambake caterers will even do the full Cape Cod Clambakes on the beach experience.
Want to pretend that you did it all yourself? Restaurants also have clambake to go. Set it all up before everyone comes and just receive the thanks from your guests with a gracious smile.
Part of a Cape Cod clambake experience is the social gathering. Seriously, with the amount of food prepared at a clambake, you’ll definitely want some help to finish it!
Often, clambakes will be impromptu gatherings; a local friend or neighbor will invite people over to hang out on the beach and chow down on the delicious steamed seafood. At an authentic clambake. It’s a chance to sit back, relax, watch the ocean waves, and enjoy great food together.
Cape Cod Weddings
Clambake parties are also super popular for Cape Cod weddings. Even if they aren’t going for casual Cape Cod weddings on the beach, many brides choose to have a pre-wedding clambake party. A catered clambake allows all the out of town guests to gather together before the main event and catch up in a casual fun atmosphere.
Speaking of catered clambakes, you can outsource the hard work out of clambake parties. A lot of places in Cape Cod and around New England will do catered clambakes.
Check out these clambake caterers for the easy Clambake parties option:
- Clambakes etc. can cater clambakes in New England, not just Cape Cod and the Islands
- Old Fashioned Clambakes can do above ground Cape Cod clambakes on the beach.
- Jakes Clambakes and Catering out of Yarmouth can arrange for clambakes onsite and clambakes to go for smaller parties.
- Backside Bakes out of Chatham on Cape Cod does clambakes to go so you can avoid having caterers milling around.
- Art’s Dune Tours out of Provincetown does a terrific clambake on the beach for groups at the Cape Cod National Seashore. Added bonus: Amazing sunsets!
Catered Clambake vs. Clambake To Go
What’s the difference between a catered clambake or a clambake to go?
For a catered clambake, the raw ingredients of clams, seafood, meat, and veggies will be brought to steam on-site. You can arrange with the clambake caterer to do as little of the work as you want.
In a clambake to go, a restaurant or catering service will steam all the food and bring it to your clambake party location. Your Cape Cod clambake is ready to serve!
A Clambake Menu
A typical clambake menu includes clams, of course, along with other seafood, like lobster, oysters, shrimp, and mussels. Corn and potatoes are the traditional vegetables used in clambakes, but you can add other vegetables if you want.
A lot of New England clambake recipes will call for chicken, hot dogs, chorizo, or steak to be added to the clambake menu. Not only will they add to the flavor but also cater to non-seafood eaters. Sausages reflect the ethnic variation of Cape Cod and New England – Polish kielbasa, Portuguese linguine, Italian sausages etc.
The shellfish for great Cape Cod clambakes should come from the waters around Chatham which is widely known for having great clams.
Side dishes can include clam chowder, mac and cheese, cole slaw and potato salad. Presumably you will have realised that a clambake party is not a low-calorie feast!!
Fresh fruit, especially watermelon, is the perfect finish to a Cape Cod clambake.
DIY Clambakes on Cape Cod
A clambake can be done either outdoors in a pit in the ground or indoors without a pit. in an indoor clambake, the ingredients are put in pots and cooked stovetop. Alternatively you can have a clambake on the grill.
For an outdoor clambake recipe, you’ll need a spot on the beach, rocks, and seaweed for the steaming process, plus a tarp to cover the food while it cooks. A wooden box to put the food in is optional.
Cape Cod Clambake on the Beach
Here is a Clambake party recipe for a Cape Cod clambake on the beach:
- Dig a pit on the beach and line with beach stones.
- Lay down enough wood for a fire to be kept going for about an hour and a half.
- After the fire has died down, sweep the embers in between the stones.
- Lay down about 4 inches of wet seaweed on the hot stones.
Now you are ready to cook (without gas!):
- Layer the food
- The bottom layer has the potatoes and chicken wrapped in cloth (if using).
- Layer more seaweed.
- Then add the corn in the husk, lobsters and steamer clams in burlap bags.
- Layer more seaweed.
- Then cover with a wet canvas to keep the steam in.
- Keep the edges of the canvas weighted down with stones and additional seaweed. Create a tight seal with a layer of sand at the edge.
- The clambake is left to steam for an hour or more.
When the clambake is opened, the steamed clams are eaten first. Note, there are no quantities listed because it all depends on how many people you are inviting to your clambake party on the beach.
The simpler version of a clambake is to steam everything on a stove in a kitchen clambake. Some people recommend still using seaweed when doing an indoor clambake to preserve some of the salty ocean taste that characterizes a good clambake.
White wine is usually the go-to addition to the steaming pot, especially for indoor clambakes, to really enhance the seasonings of the food.
Clambake Party Recipes
These two clambake party recipes are my go to for kitchen clambakes at home. On Martha’s Vineyard, we source our food from Edgartown Meat & Fish or the Edgartown seafood market.
Moreover, both of these indoor clambake recipes use a stockpot so you don’t need to get any special equipment. Most rental homes on Cape Cod and the islands come equipped with a giant lobster pot which is perfectly adequate for a small gathering.
Martha Stewart has a clambake recipe with beer. This recipe uses pale ale instead of wine for a stovetop clambake recipe.
Like my children, you may not like the stronger aftertaste of pale ale steamed seafood and prefer instead the subtle flavor of white wine. Many adults, on the other hand, prefer the Martha Stewart kitchen clambake especially because the flavours complement good craft beer.
My other favourite kitchen clambake recipe come from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa herself. In her clambake, Ina Garten uses dry white wine to steam and the meat element is kielbasa (which my kids adore).
Cape Cod Clambakes Extras
As for drinks, beer is the most common beverage served with a clambake, especially when it’s outside. People will linger and socialize on the beach even after all the food is finished with a beach bonfire to keep warm and add atmosphere.
Everyone has a slightly different idea of what makes a perfect clambake. Cape Cod locals will often have their own family traditions and twists, which have been passed down between generations.
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