If you’re a clam fanatic, you absolutely must experience this dish—and the dramatic adventure that goes along with making it—at least once in your life. When you grow up on the Rhode Island shore, clams are a quintessential food staple, and when you grow up as David Cohen’s daughter, dad’s legendary clamboils and clam roasts are a sought-after annual tradition. My boys are now the next generation of roasted clam lovers, and they count down the days of summer until they get to have what they have come to affectionately name “Papa’s Clams.”
My dad officially refers to them as “Clams Like the Indians Used to Make”—and by Indians he unmistakably means Native Americans. So if you’re ready, won’t you join me for the photo story of how to make ’em?
1. First, tightly pack the raw clams (topnecks or cherrystones..little necks are too small) with the openings facing down and the hinges facing up in a disposable aluminum pan (just like the Indians used to use!). Then steal a bunch of cedar shingles from a jobsite in the neigborhood (or get some legitimately…in either case, make sure they’re UNTREATED). Break them into sticks, and pile them on top of the clams in criss-crossed layers until you get bored of making layers or you need to freshen your cocktail, whichever comes first. (And wait…this tip is kind of important: If you’ve started this cedar layering in the middle of your living room, stop immediately and move the project outside, to a wide-open area on a non-flammable surface.)
2. Next, light the cedar on fire in a few spots on the bottom of the structure. A long lighter or match is extremely helpful here, unless you have a few fingers you’re willing to lose the use of for a month or two.
3. Burn, cedar, BURN! (Be sure to keep a hose, spray bottle or bucket of water handy to extinguish any errant embers or jumping flames, and don’t even think about leaving the fire unattended. If you need a cocktail refill during the next few steps, you’d better hope that Cousin Earl’s nice enough to bring it to you, or I’m sorry to say that you’re just plain S.O.L.)
4. The cedar will burn down into embers and ash, roasting the clams beneath. It takes about 10-15 minutes for all this burning to happen. If you listen really carefully, you can hear the whole pan singing, “I’m burnin’, I’m burnin’, I’m burnin’ for you…” and possibly a little cowbell.
5. When the embers eventually stop glowing, that’s your super-secret signal that the clams are ready. Brush aside the embers and ash, and remove the clams with tongs. They’ll be mighty HOT! Let ’em cool for a few minutes, or if you can’t possibly wait to dig in (raising hand) be sure to handle the hot clams shells with a kitchen towel. They will open quite easily…shucking skills not required. Grab a seafood fork, dip the clams in warm melted butter, and mmmmm! Enjoy!