Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Razor Clams

A week ago we went out for one of the Northwest's favorite foraging edibles: Razor Clams. It's been a week and I've been trying to figure out the best way to write about it. Ultimately, I think the photos probably tell most of the story.

None of us had ever gone Razor Clamming before, so we had only a vague idea about what was involved. The WA State Dept of Fish and Wildlife has a comprehensive and helpful website, so we began there. Digs are strictly regulated, and often the beaches are only open for a couple tides at a stretch. We chose Saturday the 27th, which had an evening tide and coincided with the Ocean Shores Razor Clam festival, so we figured it would be a popular day to go. The State divides the major clamming areas into five management zones: Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis Beach, Mocrocks, and Kalaloch. Having never been to most of the beaches we just headed for the coast and figured we'd play it by ear.

Of course, there's really no quick way to get to the coast from Seattle. Puget Sound and the Olympics are in the way, after all. So we left Seattle about 10 AM. A brief stop at the Cabela's in Lacey scored us a new PC clam gun for $12, and one day razor clamming licenses ($7) for those who needed them. By noon we were at Fish Brewing in Olympia for a tasty lunch and beer procurement. Then another two and a half hours or so to get to the beach. We decided to avoid Ocean Shores, due to the festival, and instead headed up Copalis Beach, ultimately parking at Griffiths-Priday State Park.

There is not a whole lot there, but free parking, beach access, and a bathroom counts for a lot. So we unloaded gear, strapped on waders, grabbed shovels and clam gun, and set off toward the beach. Of course, the roadway to the beach had washed out, and with dunes, cars and many people in sight on the beach, we still had to walk along the Copalis River for about a quarter mile to reach a footbridge. Fortunately, for March, it couldn't have been a nicer day.

Next time we're definitely going to just drive on the beach though. It's legally a state highway after all.

There were already dozens of people pulled up there, busily clamming away as the tide retreated. We got to work.

We weren't having a lot of luck. In fact, the only razor we bagged in the first hour and a half was one that I found at the tideline. Presumably it fell out of someone's bag, but it was still alive and fine. Finders keepers.

We then tried an area where no one else was and, surprise, had no luck there. Turns out that the Copalis River went into the ocean there, so we assume the freshwater was too much for little clam tolerances. So we went a bit further up the beach, and after some helpful conversations with people toting full catch-bags we started to get the hang of it.

Basically you're looking for tiny, nickle-sized indents in the sand, which take some time to recognize but eventually become easy to spot. Then you start digging, trying hard not to damage the clam's brittle shell. They're usually about 4-5 inches long, and can dig nearly a foot a minute, so you need to chase the little buggers up to your elbow, sometimes further. I had good luck using my clam shovel to dig most of the dirt away, then reaching in and feeling around until I could pull out the clam.

Meredith's weapon of choice was the Clam Gun. Basically, it's a sharpened 4" PVC tube, with a handle attached on top and a small hole drilled in the endcap. You work the tube down around the clam, put your thumb over the hole (creating suction) and (bend with the knees!) you pull out a tube of sand. Two or three times doing this and if you're lucky there will be a nice intact clam in the last shot of sand. No fuss, no muss.

In theory, anyway. Apparently I suck at the Clam Gun. I had one major success with it, and a whole lot of failures.

Meredith seemed to get the hang of it though, and was the first to catch her limit: 15 clams. Queen of the Razor Clams that day, who'd have thought a marine biologist would be good at this kind of thing?

As the light dimmed and the tide turned, the remaining three of us only had 1/2-3/4 of our limits. We'd just decided to call the day a partial loss and head home, when we picked up the backpack we'd brought along. There, underneath, was a clam hole! And near it, another! As the tide had gone further out, apparently the beach had drained and now the holes were easy to spot. A half hour of running around "Look, there's one! There's one! There's three!" and we all had our limits. 60 razors in total. Sweet...

Victory. Cold, wet, tired, sore and sandy victory.

We headed home as the sun set. Three and a half hours later we were back in Seattle, almost 12 hours to the minute after leaving it. The clams were kept alive overnight on trays in the fridge, covered in layers of wet paper towels. The next day everyone got back together to clean, cook, and divvy up the spoils.

Unlike Atlantic Razors, the big Pacific ones need to be shelled, gutted and cleaned before cooking. And after an hour or two of cleaning the clams, an unpleasant business, we ended up with about eight pounds of ready to go clam steaks. Not too shabby, considering they sell for $15 a pound.

For dinner we cooked them three ways. I took some of the more abused ones and chopped them up for a Razor Clam chowder. Wine, leeks, potatoes, cream, homemade bacon, razors. Excellent. Just made it up as I went along, no recipe.

Next I made a sortof pseudo-Spanish thing, using some of my chorizo, a shallot, some garlic, bay and thyme, and roughly chopped razors. Good, but went really excellently on toast the next day!

Finally, ask most razor clam fans and they'll tell you: fried is best. So I panko-ed up some strips and fried them until crispy and delicious, about a minute a side. I made up a cocktail sauce using ketchup, Worcestershire, lemon, Sriracha and wasabi. It was outstanding.

So we divvied them up into 1/2 pound containers and stashed them in the freezer. I'll bring them out from time to time.

Last night, for example, I made a sortof Northwest Springtime Paella using stuff from my fridge. Razor clams, chicken, pork, chorizo, mussels, fiddleheads, peas, bell pepper, leek, onion, garlic, olives, risotto rice.

And I managed not to light the pan on fire too! Though it still bears the scars.

There's three more Razor Clam tides scheduled two weeks from now. But they are all morning tides, which means we'd have to camp overnight. Think I'll pass, and maybe go for some littlenecks instead. Though there is talk of another tide in May...


Trish said...

Can we do this in Canada?!

Meredith said...

Yes it is possible in Canada, but only on the West coast of Vancouver island. the entire BC mainland within the strait is closed to clamming entirely (shellfish poisoning concerns).

six_caver said...

Now that was a fun day.

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