Jim Coleman | Your own backyard lobster bake - beach optional

Posted: August 30, 2007

Q: I would like your help and hope that you can get back to me before this holiday weekend. I have never tried to cook a lobster bake or a clam bake, but I want to have one on Labor Day. I have a large grill to cook it on. Can you please send instructions on how to prepare a lobster or clam bake as well as recipes for side dishes generally served with it? There will probably be 12 people attending. Thanks for helping.

- Kevin Z.

A: Thank me? No, thank you - and yes, I would love to come to your lobster bake. Don't worry, after re-reading your e-mail I realize I probably wasn't among the dozen people you invited. But you still have a great idea for a Labor Day party.

You probably know that lobster/clambakes are traditionally prepared in a large hole dug into the sand on a beach. A fire is topped with stones, seaweed and all the food, and then it is covered to slowly cook for a couple of hours.

It's not too convenient to try to recreate this scene at home. A large grill or even large steamer pots can certainly do the job.

If you are able to get seaweed, the process is as easy as building a nice fire in your grill that burns down to hot coals, topping your grates with seaweed and then your food, and covering your grill until everything is steamy and juicy and ready to go.

But since the only way you might get seaweed is if one of your 12 dinner guests is a mermaid, I'll share a recipe that doesn't require that authentic touch.

Now let's talk about what else to serve. If I were the one planning this menu, I would also serve some clams and mussels, as well as some red bliss potatoes and fresh corn. There would be lots of lemon wedges and melted butter to go around.

I would also have a big tossed salad, or a salad of some great local tomatoes and cucumbers. It's also nice to start everyone off with a little chowder, and I'm giving you a recipe for that, too.

Finish everything off with some Jersey peach or blueberry cobbler.

If any of your guests has a shellfish allergy, you could always throw in some chicken or sausage.

When you are buying the lobsters for this party, there is no need to re-mortgage the homestead. The smallest lobsters you can buy will be between 1 and 1 1/4 pounds; these are called "chickens." Lobsters the next size up, called "quarters," weigh between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 pounds. With all the other food you are serving, these smaller lobsters will work just fine.

Kevin, don't forget that you will need nutcrackers for the lobster shells.

Even though this menu sounds like a lot, it really is a fairly easy party to throw. So don't labor too much on Labor Day, and if you need any help, you know where to find me. *

Jim Coleman, corporate chef at Normandy Farm and Blue Bell Country Club, is the author of three cookbooks and is the host of two nationally syndicated cooking shows - "A Chef's Table" on WHYY (91-FM) at noon Saturdays and "Flavors of America," on WHYY-TV (Channel 12) at 1 p.m. Saturdays and CN8 Monday through Friday, 4:30 p.m.

KEVIN'S LOBSTER BAKE/GRILL

6 dozen steamer clams (more if you'd like)

6 dozen fresh mussels

12 live lobsters

3 dozen small red bliss potatoes

12 ears of corn (in the husk)

6 lemons (cut into wedges)

Four sticks (half pound) of melted butter

24 pieces of 18-by-36-inch cheesecloth

24 pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil

Use a large pot of cold water and a vegetable brush to scrub and clean the clams, mussels and potatoes thoroughly. Remove the silk from the top of the ears of corn. Don't remove the husks or the corn will dry out as it cooks.

Lay out two pieces of foil with two pieces of the cheesecloth on top. Wrap this around 1 lobster, 3 potatoes, 6 clams, 6 mussels and 1 ear of corn; add a cup of water to the package. Make sure to tie the cloth over the food and seal the foil well.

Make 12 of these packages and place them on an outdoor grill about 4 inches from the heat. Cover the grill with the hood or with large pieces of foil tucked in around the edges of the grill.

Let the packages steam for an hour, flipping or turning them every 20 minutes. If the potatoes are done, it's a good sign that everything else in the package is ready.

Open the packages and serve them with the lemon wedges and melted butter. You'll need nut crackers to get the lobsters out of the shell. Serves 12.

NEW JERSEY CLAM CHOWDER

2 russet potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and diced (about 2 1/2 cups)

Salt

6 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch strips

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, chopped

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups bottled clam juice

2 cups milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

Pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 1/2 cups chopped fresh or bottled clams

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and add enough salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until almost done. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a separate sauté pan, sauté the bacon until almost crisp. Leave the rendered bacon fat and the bacon in the pan, add the garlic and onion and sauté over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the flour and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, being careful not to burn the flour.

Add the clam juice, milk, cream, pepper, dill and parsley and bring to a boil, stirring well. Add the potatoes and chopped clams and return to a boil for 1 minute. Ladle into warm serving bowls. Serves 4.

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