My wife and I are taking a little birthday road-trip up the Mendocino coastline for the weekend, and we’re planning to stop at a local seafood market in Bodega Bay to fill our cooler with fresh live shellfish; Dungeness crabs, cherrystone and littleneck clams, scallops, mussels, local oysters, prawns, etc.
The cottage that we’re staying at has a fairly large and fully stocked kitchen, but it also has an old stone and charcoal BBQ pit out back:
I really want to try and pull off a traditional clambake, but I’m not entirely sure the best way to go about doing it and I would really appreciate your thoughts and suggestions…
The easiest way to do it would obviously be indoors in a stovetop stock pot, but that doesn’t seem like much fun.
I figure we have our own BBQ pit, we might as well put it to use!
I’d really like to try and do this as authentically as possible. We are staying right by the sea, so I’d love to forage and beachcomb for large stones, kelp, seaweed, and brown & green algae along the shore, to use for our cookout.
Ideally we’d fill a pot with tap water, add some coarse grain Sonoma sea salt (from Spice Ace in SF), line the bottom of our stock pot with local stones, layer with a bed of kelp and seaweed, then add some red fingerling and sweet potatoes, live Dungeness crabs, Polish sausages, garlic cloves, clams, mussels, oysters, cipollini onions, prawns, sweet corn, leeks, lemons, and so on. Then carpet with more seaweed and kelp, and place directly over the BBQ pit.
Here’s where things get a bit confusing for me…
I’m not certain what kind of pot we’ll actually be cooking with. I was told that our cottage has a large cast-iron dutch oven, but upon further inquiry, I found out it’s only 5 qts which hardly seems large enough for a proper clambake; especially if I’m layering with stones and seaweed, right? My wife is asking her friends whether anyone has a larger 10-20 qt stock pot or dutch oven that we could borrow for the weekend, but that leads into question number two…
Assuming we’re working with stainless steel or aluminum rather than heavier cast iron, can we still cook directly over a charcoal grill without overheating the base of the pot and overcooking the shellfish? Presumably the rocks and seaweed bed will help to distance the seafood from the direct heat but I’ve never heard of anyone steaming shellfish over stones in a stainless stock pot. Would this work and what are the potential cons in doing it this way versus over the stovetop?
If we do this over the charcoal pit, would you recommend mixing pieces of hot charcoal with the stones INSIDE the base of the pot and then covering with seaweed? Would this only be possible in a dutch oven? I ask because I’ve seen this done on YouTube using a Weber grill for a clambake, but I’m not sure whether this would be a good idea with a stainless stock pot? As you can probably gather, I’ve never done a clambake over a BBQ pit before, so apologies if some of these questions seem obvious!
I’m just trying to figure out the best and most FUN way to pull this off so that we can enjoy fresh and great tasting shellfish by the seashore - our cottage and BBQ pit (w/ hammock beside it!) overlooks the Pacific ocean, so I really want to take advantage of that. I picked up a really nice bottle of Zind Humbrecht “Hengst” Gewürztraminer Grand Cru from 2013 to pair with the above, and the thought of swaying outside in a hammock with a 12 pack of Russian River and the smell of burning charcoal wafting through the salty ocean air really excites me! I’d love to be able to use the BBQ pit with whatever cooking pot we end up getting, without compromising on the outcome of the shellfish, so please let me know how you would plan to do this! Any additional cooking tips you have to offer would be really helpful!
Also, what size stock pot / dutch oven do you suppose would be ideal; 10qts? 12qts? 20qts?
Thanks so much!!