My Clambake Seaweed Source: The Beach
Blame it on David Hagedorn. During my annual stay with friends in Truro, Mass., a little town almost at the tip of Cape Cod, I decided to make David's fantastic-looking grill clambake for a dinner party. (This is my installment of What I Ate on My Summer Vacation.) What could be better on a beach vacation? Sure, you could do a "real" clambake on the beach, but why bother with all that digging, that sand, those hot stones, when you can throw together all the elements on a good old Weber charcoal grill?
I had never done either, truthfully. I've watched people try (and frankly, fail) to carry off the beach clambake, and I've done the stovetop version, in which you just layer the ingredients in a big stockpot. But David's version, using seaweed, a combination of foil packets and cloth hobo packs and charcoal, would surely result in a sweetly smoky, briny flavor.
The first challenge was in the quantities. David wrote the recipe for 4 and called for a whole lobster per person (besides the corn, clams, mussels, potatoes and sausage), all wrapped up in an individual pack. After word spread among friends about my plans, our list of participants rose to 12. Not only did I doubt that after our significant appetizers people would need a whole lobster apiece, I worried about how to fit 12 packs onto two grills: one the size of David's, and another smaller kettle.
The solution: I decided to make six packs, each serving two people (who would split one lobster but get a full complement of the rest), and to put four on the larger Weber and two on the smaller.
So far, so good. The second challenge was in procuring the seaweed. David wrote that fishmongers often give away seaweed or sell it for a few bucks a pound because it arrives with lobsters. (A quick call to fishmongers in the Washington area bore that out: Several said that if you call at least a couple days in advance, it shouldn't be a problem.) But not so on the Cape. When I asked at Mac's Seafood, a fantastic place in "downtown" (read: post office, convenience store, parking lot) Truro, the guys first pointed me to the seaweed salad in their refrigerator case. Um, that would get expensive. When they realized that I wanted eight pounds, one of them said, "Just go down to Pamet Harbor and pull it out of the grasses."
Easier said than done, it turns out. My friend Edouard and I wheeled a garden cart the half-mile down the road to the harbor, but there were only wisps of seaweed in and among the grasses, and it would've taken us hours to gather enough. Friends all had their own ideas: This beach, that cove, or those rocks. I know people harvest live seaweed, but did we really need to go to all that trouble? It didn't need to be freshly cut, just soaked. Edouard suggested we just go to the nearest beach, a couple miles away by car, and sure enough, right at the edge of the dunes was a swath of beached seaweed a couple feet wide and miles long. We gathered up four kitchen-garbage-bags full (way more than we needed, but we figured our host, Stephen, could use the extra for garden mulch) and drove it back to the house.
I wish I could say that everything went off without a hitch from there, but I'd be lying. David's recipe worked perfectly, but the larger of Stephen's grills was rusting at the legs, and every time I put anything in or moved the lid, it wobbled in a way that made me fear for my safety and wish I was wearing steel-toed boots instead of sandals. Thankfully, the grill survived -- barely. (I've since suggested that he buy this one to replace it.)
After I checked to make sure everything was cooked properly, we untied the packets, cut up the lobsters and piled everything onto newspapers on the kitchen counter for a buffet-style feast. Everything -- particularly the lobsters and the corn -- had picked up that smoky brininess from the seaweed and charcoal, and the whole affair was a big, informal, festive, delicious mess. Just the way I wanted.
-- Joe Yonan
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