Gather around for clams

Throw clams, corn and potatoes in a pot for a sensational seasonal feast

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Steaming clams in briny broth, the last of the season's sweet corn, tender potatoes, perfectly charred grilled chicken, maybe a bowl of clam chowder, a lobster or a steak to round out the meal — that's right, it's clambake time.

John Dziorney, owner of Bay Lobsters Fish Market & Cafe on Darrow Road in Twinsburg, Ohio, said he'll sell more than 20,000 clams during a typical October weekend to wholesale and retail customers -- most of them retail sales for folks who want to host their own clambakes.

Dziorney sells a wide variety of clams, but said littleneck (about the size of a quarter), middleneck (about the size of a 50-cent piece) and Boston steamers, a soft shell clam, are his most popular for clambakes. He also offers cherrystones and topnecks.

Because they are the smallest, littlenecks are the most tender. Boston steamers have a skin over the meat that has to be torn off before it can be eaten, but Dziorney said they are becoming more popular because folks eat them when visiting Boston and want to try them at home.

Hosting a clambake at home is easy, and doesn't require much more than a large stockpot.

A reliable seafood dealer typically sells clams already scrubbed clean and tied inside mesh bags that are ready for steaming.

Typical clambake menus consist of clams, steamed potatoes or sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, clam chowder and grilled or barbecued chicken. You can add a lobster or steak, or serve them instead of the chicken.

Building the steam pot "is all about the flavor," Chef Bob Sferra, owner of Culinary Occasions Catering in South Euclid, Ohio, explained.

In a large pot, he combines clam juice, thyme, garlic, carrots, celery, onion and a small amount of Old Bay Seasoning. The point is to create a liquid that will add flavor to the potatoes and clams as they steam. After, the broth provides the perfect base stock for making clam chowder, he said.

Use small redskin potatoes, or if using large sweet potatoes, Sferra recommends cutting them in half to lessen their cooking time. If your pot is large enough, you can layer the corn on the cob on top of the potatoes, before putting the clams on top.

Discard any clams that don't open; that means they were dead before going into the pot and aren't good to eat, he said.

While some purists might insist the chicken should steam in the pot with the clams, Sferra prefers to roast it first, then finish it off with a barbecue sauce on the grill or on a stovetop grill, for a more flavorful chicken than one that's been steamed.

Now that you're in the mood for clams, here are Sferra's recipes for an easy clambake that can be made at home without any special equipment. Round out the meal with steamed corn on the cob, clam chowder, crusty bread, plenty of melted butter for dipping and a nice Pinot Grigio or icy cold beer for washing it down.

Stovetop Clambake

Makes 6 servings.

By Chef Bob Sferra, Culinary Occasions.

3 quarts clam juice (see note)

Several sprigs fresh thyme

1 to 2 ribs celery, broken in half

1 small onion, peeled and quartered

1 to 2 carrots, peeled and cut in half

1 clove garlic

½ teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

2 dozen small red skin potatoes, well-scrubbed, or 6 sweet potatoes, cut in half

6 dozen middleneck clams, scrubbed

Melted butter, for serving

In a large stockpot (3- to 4-gallon capacity) place clam juice, celery, carrot, onion, thyme, garlic and Old Bay Seasoning. Bring to a good simmer over medium heat.

Fit a steamer basket into the pot to fit just above the broth. Add potatoes to steamer insert and layer clams on top. Cover with a tight-fitting lid.

Steam about 15 minutes or longer until clams’ shells have popped open and potatoes are fork tender. Serve clams with melted butter for dipping.

Notes: If clam juice isn’t available, or you don’t have enough, use water or low-salt chicken broth, or a combination to equal two quarts. Recipe can easily be doubled. For 12 dozen clams, use an 8- to 10-gallon pot, or two smaller stockpots.

Perfect Barbecued Chicken

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

By Chef Bob Sferra, Culinary Occasions.

2 whole chickens, about 4 pounds each

1½ teaspoons light brown sugar

1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1½ teaspoons sweet paprika

1½ teaspoons chile powder

1½ teaspoons kosher or sea salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons canola oil

2 lemons

2 bay leaves

Olive oil

Favorite barbecue sauce

Preheat the oven to 325 F degrees.

Thoroughly combine the brown sugar, pepper, paprika, chile powder, salt and garlic powder.

Truss the chickens, drizzle with the canola oil and coat on all sides evenly with the spice mixture. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze the juice of the lemons over the chickens. Place two lemon halves and one bay leaf into the cavity of each chicken. Drizzle with olive oil and place in a roasting pan, cover with foil and roast, covered, for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and roast an additional 10 to 15 minutes to crisp the skin.

Allow the chickens to cool enough to handle, then cut each into 8 pieces: 2 each, legs, thighs, breasts and wings.

Build a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill and let burn until covered with white ash. Leave the coals heaped in a mound in the center of the grill. Do not spread out. Sprinkle a handful of wood chips over the coals.

For a gas grill, preheat on high. Turn one burner off, leave the other burners on high. Place wood chips in a metal chip box or wrap the chips in aluminum foil, pierce a few holes in the foil, and place the packet on the heat source.

Arrange the chicken around the cooler, outer perimeter of the grill, not directly over the coals, and cover the grill. For a gas grill, place the chicken over the burner that is turned off. Close the lid.

Cook the chicken, turning once, until golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. After 10 minutes add a handful of chips to the fire or heat source. There’s no need to add more briquettes to the charcoal fire.

Lift the cooking rack from the grill with the chicken still on the rack, and set aside. Spread out the coals. Return the rack to the grill. For a gas grill, turn all burners to medium. Arrange the chicken over the entire surface of the cooking rack. Brush the chicken with sauce, turn the chicken, and cover the grill. Cook for 5 minutes. Brush the unglazed side of the chicken, turn, cover and grill until the chicken shows no sign of pink when pierced at the bone, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.