Razor clams. Unique to the Pacific Coast and found from Alaska to California, these bivalves are a delectable treat you can harvest yourself. With just a shovel or clam gun and some elbow grease, you can be frying up tasty clams in no time. (Well, kinda. There is a little more to it than that.) Step right up and I’ll take you along on our recent clam digging expedition.
When Mr. Stuck called me last week and told me his friend was heading down to the ocean to dig clams, he sounded hopeful. He told me that the weekend straddled the switch from evening to morning digs, allowing us to harvest back-to-back, Saturday night and Sunday morning. Would I be interested in going down there, too?
My ‘yes’ surprised both of us, and later, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. It had been years since I dug clams, and I would need a refresher. Ominously, the weather forecast was rain and thunderstorms. Oh, boy.
After a quickie reservation at the RV camp, we got the trailer packed up. We had clam guns, but we couldn’t locate our clam shovels, so I brought my little hand cultivators and trowels. We brought 5-gallon plastic buckets with holes in the bottom, boots, rain gear, and plenty of towels. The ocean is notorious for bad weather, especially this time of year. We knew we’d be getting wet, but razor clams are well worth it.
We got ourselves checked in and the trailer set up, and then, after a quick visit with Mr. Stuck’s friend, we returned and got ready for the evening dig. I wore rain pants over my jeans, water shoes, and several layers of jackets. The wind is constant at the shore, so along with my braid, I had a bandana to keep the wispy hair from my eyes, and a ball cap over that, all topped with my jacket’s hood. (Thankfully, no photos exist of this stylish ensemble.) It wasn’t yet sunset, but we saw plenty of diggers. Well past the crowd, we settled in to our own stretch of beach.
To find clams, you search the intertidal sand for ‘show’ — a dimple, small mound, or hole in the sand. Dig with your shovel or the clam gun to find your prize. Razor clams can be fast, so you have to be faster. Sometimes you have to drop to your knees and thrust your hand in the hole, scooping sand like mad to get that sucker. The closer you are to the water, the softer the sand and easier the digging. However, the closer you are to the water, the wetter you will get — the waves just keep coming.
You always have to keep an eye on the wave action. In addition to the all-important safety factor in that, there’s also the practical angle. Early on, I had set down the buckets near where we dug; a particularly sneaky wave caught me by surprise and knocked over my buckets, sending four happy clams to their freedom. My tally of 8 had just been reduced by half. I was able to recover one, but the rest slipped away. Lesson learned. I kept hold of those buckets for the rest of the time we were walking the surf. Many diggers use net bags they tie to their waists; I think we’ll use those next time.
After a couple hours, we each had fifteen clams; most were good sized, with a few smaller ones. The regulations state that you keep the first fifteen you dig, so they’re bound to be of varying size. Sometimes you accidentally crunch them with your shovel or clam gun; you take those, too. They all taste good!
Sunday morning’s dig went faster, but my great idea of wearing boots and rolling up my pant legs only worked until the first good-sized wave filled the boots and soaked me to mid-thigh. I sloshed around for the duration, and when we got back to the truck, Mr. Stuck helped me change into dry socks and shoes.
Well, that was fun. But now that we had our goodies, we had to open and clean them. Like many other delicacies, razor clams take a lot of preparation.
We dunk ours in very hot water for a few seconds until their shells pop open, and then they are immediately moved to a cold water bath to keep from cooking the flesh.
With the shells gone, the tip of the neck is snipped off and the body is slit from neck to foot.
Then the gills and palps (mouth parts) are removed, the stomach is removed, the digger is slit and cleaned, and with a final rinse, the clam is ready to cook.
This can be a long and arduous process; Mr. Stuck deserves a medal for cleaning every last one of those 60 clams!
I had a great time. Mentally, I had prepared myself for the worst — heavy rain and wind, cold, sand in everything — but it was so much better than that! The weather was nicer than we’d hoped, the clams were big and plentiful, and now I have a bounty for frying and for chowder.
Apparently, I need to say yes more often.
*Hat tip to Ivar Haglund, a Seattle legend. Ivar founded his namesake restaurant and coined its motto, “Keep Clam.” Photo credit: jeangodden.com