Most parts of the world favour a particular type of outdoor cooking when the summer arrives and the thermometer hits the high spots. The British barbecue is frequently a soggy affair, characterised more by enthusiasm than skill, the Australian barbie is a gourmet affair as likely to involve shrimps and lobster as red meat, while the South African braai can involve the greater part of a cow, along with marinated chicken and a type of rough, spicy sausage known to South Africans as boerewors, or farmer’s sausage.
Rhode Island is a magnet for some of America’s wealthiest families, a place where the country’s elite choose to holiday, so it’s no surprise that when talk turns to outdoor eating (or ‘cookouts’) something a little more exotic than a couple of wizened chops and a shop-bought frozen burger is on the menu.
The great Rhode Island clambake is a barbecue with attitude – and it’s a serious business too with a long history. Experts claim that Rhode Island residents have the Wampanoag Indians to thank for this culinary tradition, since they first developed this easy and appetising way of cooking seafood.
Originally clambakes took place on the beach, since all the necessary ingredients (seafood, wood and stones) were there. These days, clambakes tend to take place in the gardens of Rhode Island’s elegant country mansions. Some of the most lavish summer weddings in New England feature receptions in which guests are treated to a massive barbecue in which clams, lobster and quahogs (a local delicacy) are cooked and served. Specialist clambake companies offer their services and equipment to ensure that the garden parties of Rhode Island’s high society maintain their refined aura.
Some particularly serious foodies enjoy testing their mettle in clambake competitions. Americans are extremely serious about their cookout traditions and some states employ a panel of gourmets to judge the barbecued offerings. Clambakes are also held to celebrate certain holidays, such as Columbus Day, when the ringing of the clambake bell heralds the start of the barbecue.
Yet the great Rhode Island clambake isn’t merely a summer phenomenon; the truly dedicated extend the custom throughout the year by using their kitchens and moving the seafood party indoors.
Picture I by Arnold Gatilao