Thursday, October 04, 2007

Clam Bake!

Gaaaaah! What a great day! I'm a big fan of clam bakes, there's something so quintessentially New England about them, and I've missed the east coast culture so much the past three years while temporarily displaced in San Francisco. In fact, I've been all jazzed up about them again since I was reading Jacques Pepin's book and he describes an amazing clam bake in Long Island. It reminded me of my childhood in Long Island and made me miss being a responsibility free child.

Enough nostalgia, it's making everything a little misty and I should be focusing on school.

We were all a little unsure what to expect today because we knew Jasper White would be bringing a "clam bake on wheels" for the evening demo. We didn't think we'd end up doing very much (which ended up being mostly true) but I think we did end up learning quite a bit. When he arrived with several people in tow, it became obvious we were mostly man-power, but if that meant a free lobster, I was ready to go.

Jasper explained that even though we weren't doing very much, it'd be a good example of a catering job. Arriving, set up, establishing what was possible, assembling, reheating and finalizing items, he was totally right. We watched as emptied huge bags of clam chowder into pots, melted twenty pounds of butter for dinner and warmed up some apple crisps. Even though I was designated soup stirrer, I was able to see what went into the chowder. I saw several whole bay leaves still hanging out in the pot and huge chunks of salt pork and potatoes floating around, I couldn't believe how much of the clam chowder was flavoring.

I was also surprised to see them throw a few pounds of butter and some salt in a pot and let it melt. I thought they were going to clarify the butter for use, but they said they never did, not even in the restaurant. I think I always assumed the stuff they use in restaurants was clarified butter - or, maybe it is and Jasper just does it differently.

We didn't assemble the individual clam bake bags, but we did get to see what went into them (and, eventually, eat them). The one bag clam bag is definitely a lot of seafood. Each bag gets one lobster, a potato, corn, an egg, chorizo, a handful of steamers and a bunch of mussels. It would take a very hungry and determined person to finish the entire bag. I don't know anyone that actually could finish it that night, actually, especially since we were plied with clam chowder, corn bread and cole slaw before hand.

All of the food (except the egg) are placed into a yellow mesh bag to be placed en masse into one of the huge steam pots on Jasper's motorized clam bake. The pots are all lined up underneath a pulley system that can pick up the huge metal steaming racks and lower them into the pots. It's actually really fun and cool to watch, it's part mad-science and part mouth-watering satisfaction. Actually, now that I think about it, Jasper White reminds me like a funny and sweeter version of the professor from those Back to the Future movies. Does that sound bad? I mean it in a good way. I'd definitely more more likely to eat something that was made in a Jasper White invention than in in one of Doc's contraptions.

But I digress...

We prepped everything for the soups and the breads so that the gathered audience for the evening's demo could eat while Jasper answered questions and explained what was involved in the clam bake and did a little advertising about the clam bake on wheels. I actually think the clam bake on wheels sounds really fun and if I ended up getting married around Boston, I'd love to have this as my rehearsal dinner. The real action for us came when it was determined that the bake was done.

We all set up in one long line of assembly and preparation. Every bag that came out of the steaming vats needed to be placed on a plate, cut, arranged nicely, brushed with butter, given a wedge of lemon, a hard-boiled egg and dusted with Old Bay seasoning. Sounds easy enough, except everything that came out of that pot was burning hot and the lobster still had spikes on its claws. For the number of times I was poked while pulling the lobsters out of the bag to arrange them I must have made up for the karmic sin of enjoying eating lobster so much.

The assembly line was about ten minutes of intense heat and movement. My fingertips were burnt and sore, I was dripping with sweat and I had random places on my hand that were throbbing because it'd be impaled by the angry lobsters postmortem. It was so hard for me to keep doing it that I eventually gave up and let Jenny do the real plating. I just pulled the sucker out and made him hug the ear of corn.

It was a fun evening, especially seeing as some people in class hadn't had lobster before. Even though we're supposed to be learning, it was nice to have a day where we were learning indirectly and we could just enjoy each other's company a bit. It's been about a month and I think we've all gelled well as a group, and I think that learning to work and deal with the same group of people every day is an important lesson for anyone. But, it might be just a little more important in a profession where we all walk around with knives.