'Special' Foods Stir Special Memories

Steamed pots are more than just a meal.

One of the best things about a birthday is getting to pick your special birthday meal. Around here, the meals have changed over the years as the kids have gotten older.

For a long time our "special" birthday dinner was little meat loaves, a family recipe from my childhood that we kids always had on our birthdays.

Meat loaf may not sound very exciting, but, trust me, you've never had little meat loaves. It's still the birthday dinner choice for most of my siblings and now their husbands and/or children.

In middle school, my daughter went through a spell of wanting nothing but steak with steak fries and corn on the cob. At the same time, my oldest son wanted only the sticky, delicious baby back ribs from a recipe I found years ago on the Internet.

My youngest son usually goes for his favorite Chinese food, which sets everyone else grumbling since they don't think of that as "special."

Special birthday dinners are on my mind for a couple of reasons. First of all, my two oldest kids have July birthdays -- one at the beginning of July and one at the end -- and for the past couple of years they both asked for steamed pots. The second reason is that I just returned from a trip to Sarasota, FL, with my husband, and it was sort of bittersweet.

Sarasota, more specifically Siesta Key, is where we went on family vacations for years, from the time our oldest two were very young and before my youngest was born. It's a lovely place to take small children, with white sand beaches so cool they don't need shoes, a gentle, wave-less gulf like a big, salty pool, beautiful sunsets and friendly people. It's a very family-oriented spot.

This is where we first had steamed pots, and we always looked forward to eating them as much as anything. They are as far at the top of my kids' happy vacation memories as playing in the sand, visiting the marine museum, collecting shark's teeth and learning to snorkel.

Just as they eventually moved on from little meat loaves to more adult food, they outgrew Sarasota and the non-existent surf. When they got older they wanted to go to a part of the ocean with waves big enough to surf and boogie board and to cruise a busy pier, not float placidly on a raft with their mom and dad. 

A few years ago I realized I really missed steamed pots. As far as I know, there is only one place in Western Pennsylvania where you can get them, but those versions are incredibly average.

I wanted to make my own and make them really good. So I did, and my kids were thrilled with the outcome. We've since tweaked them to include the favorite seafood of whatever child has requested them, and they are currently the older kids go-to birthday dinner request.

At least for now. They may move on to something else eventually. Maybe even back to little meat loaves.  

Recipe: Steamed Pots

Steamed pots are very easy to make and very versatile. The recipe that follows is a recipe for two (usually with leftovers). To double, just make another pot. You can use any combination or amounts of the listed seafood and other ingredients. Like mussels? Make a steamed pot of just mussels. You can also use sausage and/or scallops.

When I make steamed pots for birthdays, however, I usually have a houseful of people and make at least two big pots of seafood. When I do that, I cook the corn and potatoes separately on a grill and load the pots up with seafood, making sure I have one lobster for every two people.


  • 1 live lobster or 2 pounds King crab legs
  • 2 pounds fresh or frozen mussels or clams (I often use both, but fresh clams have been hard to find lately)
  • 1 pound large, uncooked shrimp
  • Old Bay seasoning (optional)
  • 1 pound tiny red potatoes
  • 2 ears of corn, shucked, cleaned and cut in half
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • parsley
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • water



  1. If using live clams, soak for one hour in salted water to remove debris. Rinse well when ready to use.
  2. If using live mussels, wash and remove beards. When tapped, any open shells should close. If they do not, discard them.
  3. Clean potatoes and prick with a fork. Pre-cook potatoes halfway through in microwave, about 3 minutes or so. You can do this in advance and refrigerate.
  4. Toss shrimp with Old Bay seasoning.
  5. Place a steamer basket in a large pot. Add water to bottom of steamer basket.
  6. Add potatoes, then mussels and/or clams, then shrimp. Add corn. Top with onion, celery, parsley and lemon wedges. 
  7. Top with live lobster or King crab legs.
  8. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a slow boil and steam for 20 minutes. The lobster will be bright pink. Drain.

Serve with butter, cocktail sauce and horseradish sauce for dipping and a good bread for soaking up the juices.  

Cindi Lash August 21, 2011 at 12:17 PM
Oh Kelly, I'm on my way back from the shore and I'm stopping to buy a cooler for fish to bring home and steam for supper .... yum!
Becca Weber October 12, 2011 at 04:41 AM
Hi Kelly! Would you be able to post the recipe for baby back ribs that you mentioned? I love ribs and am always looking for new recipes. -Becca
Kelly Burgess October 12, 2011 at 11:21 AM
Becca - I will post it on Sunday, it's going to be the column recipe this week. You will love it!


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