Happy July 4th! After nearly three months on the road (a book tour and new book research), I'll be home with my family. That means Martha's Vineyard—just in time for our fantastic small town (but very big-hearted) Independence Day parade up Main Street in Edgartown, followed by fireworks over the harbor viewed from the beach.
For dinner this year, we're planning a twist on a New England classic: grill-top clambake. Traditional clambake is cooked in a fire-heated underground pit, of course—a dramatic process—but one more akin to steaming than grilling. This version comes, you guessed it, screaming hot off the grill.
The secret to the grill-top clambake is to divide and conquer—that is, grill each course separately rather than all heaped together in a pit. One advantage of this approach is that you get to blast the various ingredients with smoke and fire flavors. Another is that you get to cook each to the precise degree of doneness you like.
You'll start with a Portuguese-American classic: grilled clams with linguica. The Portuguese arrived in coastal New England in the 19th century to help man the whaling ships that sailed from every port in Massachusetts—including Vineyard Haven and Edgartown. Their legacy lives on in the local popularity of linguica—a garlicky sausage spiced up with wine vinegar and paprika. If all goes well, we'll dig littleneck clams on the morning of July 4th, then grill them over a wood-enhanced fire just long enough to open the shells. Once cooked, the clams go into an onion-linguica-wine broth kept warm in a pan on the grill (which eliminates the need for split second timing). To soak up that clam and wine broth, you'll serve garlic bread—toasted on the grill.
To grill the lobster, you split it down the back to scent the sweet white meat with fragrant wood smoke. (If you're squeamish, parboil the lobsters for a few minutes before you split them. A large heavy chef knife is the perfect tool for the job). When lobster is this fresh, it doesn't need much more seasoning than melted butter. Ditto for the corn, which you grill husk off so the high dry heat of the grill can caramelize the plant sugars.
While you're at it, grill some Italian sausages in homage to Boston's "Little Italy," the North End. I lived in Boston for 20 years—that's where I bought my sausage. Direct grill over a moderate fire just long enough to crisp the casings and reach an internal temperature of 160°F. Here, too, a grill basket—this one designed for sausage—helps keep the links lined up over the fire. Alternatively, indirect grill the sausages as I do bratwurst, tossing wood chips on the coals. You'll dodge the risk of flare-ups and get extra flavor to boot.
For dessert, if the weather cooperates, the first of the New England blueberry crop should be in. That means a luscious, bubbling blueberry crumble smoke-roasted in a cast iron skillet on the grill. Smoke it with apple or cherry wood chips and serve it hot under a scoop of cold vanilla ice cream.
From my family to yours we wish you a great holiday!
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Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Primal Grill on PBS. His web site is BarbecueBible.com.