Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Foodbat digs creature out of sand, eats it: Razor clams!

This past weekend I got the opportunity to do something singularly northwesty - dig for razor clams! I had never done anything even approaching something like this, so when Naomi of GastroGnome invited me to go, I jumped at the chance. Neither of us had any idea of what we were doing, but we did have a clam gun, and it sounded like an interesting experience, so why not?

We left at an ungodly early hour on sunday morning, and after getting lost somewhere around Aberdeen finally made it to Copalis beach. The state only opens certain beaches for clamming at certain days of the year, coinciding with very low tides. The season opened at 8am so we had to make sure to be there in time.

Other clammers were scattered up and down the tide flats, digging and seemingly plucking clams from the sand as easily as picking apples from a laden tree. Easy, right? We found a divot in the sand and stuck in the clam gun, which is essentially a piece of PVC pipe with handles. Push in, pull out, all the sand slides back out of the pipe and into the hole. No clam. Try again, hole fails, no clam. We are obviously Doing It Wrong.

We end up wandering around at the surfline for about 45 minutes, looking like fools among all the people happily digging up thier little mollusks. We had an Epic Clam Fail on our hands - a two and a half hour drive out, and it was clear that we had wasted our time and were going to drive back empty handed due to our noobishness.

After yet another failed attempt, Naomi noticed the little hole on top of the pipe, and wondered if maybe it was supposed to be covered. Eureka! We push in the gun, cover the hole and...SUCTION! A large divot of sand comes out with the gun. And there, in the hole - yes, a little thingy, poking out! I squeal like a little girl and grab for it. I go in up to my elbow, and come out with our first clam!
We dance around in excitement. There is this amazing rush of euphoria that comes from erasing the barrier erected by restaurants, supermarkets and other middlemen of the human food chain, pulling something wriggling out of the ground to be eaten. We certainly felt it.

From there, it was easy, more or less. Look for a divot. Dig in the clam gun. Cover the hole, pull out the sand, grab the clam. We each got our limit of fifteen, and headed home with the load.

I've done some foraging before, but this was hands down the most fun and rewarding venture I've ever had doing it.

Once my clams were home, I washed them of sand as best as I could and put them in a bowl under some wet paper towels. I was a little nervous about the next part, and was exhausted anyway, so clams went in the fridge for the night.

I should probably mention that cleaning razor clams bears very little resemblance to cleaning the hardshell clams that most of us think of when we think of clams - with hard shells, all you have to do is rinse off the outside and steam them until thier shells come open. Not so with razor clams - these suckers are BIG, and cleaning them is a process that requires, well, shelling and butchering the thing. I already am pretty squeaming about killing things - I don't kill spiders, I avoid ants, I carefully move snails to another part of the yard. (Thank god I dont have to deal with roaches). Clams don't whimper or make any sound, but they do pull back when you touch them, and wriggle. Anyway, I'd grown a little attached to my clams, so the thought of killing them weighed heavily upon me.

When the time came the following night, and the clams were in a colander in my sink, I ended up coming to terms with what was about to happen by saying a little prayer for them. I understand it's pretty rediculous, but it helped me feel better.
It went something like this:

O Razor Clams,
Please forgive me for bringing about your demise,
but unfortunately, you are Delicious
and would probably die pretty soon anyway.
I hope that until now your clammy lives have been pretty good
and that if you reincarnate you come back as something that doesn't get eaten
or at least live a bit longer.

Actually it went on for quite a bit longer than that but my husband told me to quit stalling and get it over with already.

Here is how you clean a razor clam:

First, pour boiling water over them for no longer than five seconds. Immediately rinse in cold water. If its any longer the flesh will be tough. this should make the shells pop open and help release the clam from the shell.

Using a spoon or your fingers, shuck the clam from its shell. make sure to cut through the four muscles that are attaching the thing and not tear them.

With a pair of scissors, snip the end of the neck part off. I should probably mention that even after they die, mollusks have automatic twich responses - so yes, it will pull back and wriggle in your hand as you are cutting it. THIS IS INCREDIBLY FREAKY. You just have to squeal when appropriate and deal with it as best as you can. They really are dead at this point.

Cut up the zipper and up the ventricle. then located the second ventricle (there will be a little hole) and cut up that as well. the idea is to butterfly the thing so that it lays flat.

make a cut across the dark bit in the center, and gently pull the digger (thats the foot thing) away from the body.

scrape off any dark bits - the gills in this case - from the body, and put aside in a bowl of water.

Make a diagonal cut across the dark bit of the digger. there will be a little glassy thing in the middle that pops out - pull it out and toss it.

butterfly the digger as you did the body, removing any dark bits and pulling out the small intestine (you know, the poop shoot). I recommend doing all this under running water. The fluffly looking stuff should stay on.

I think the most disturbing part of this was not the little (nonharmful) crabs that would scuttle out of the clamshell, or the way the thing wriggled in my hands long after it was dead. Rather, it was the fact that after squealing and squirming through the first couple of clams, I started thinking less about what I was doing and more about how my back hurt, or whatever else came into my head. At one point I even started singing a song about clam poopshoots. How quickly we become numb!

Anyway, I didn't take any pictures of the fried clams I made, but they were delicious. You can find a similar recipe here or on GastroGnome's excellent post on her experience.
I made sure to freeze most of them for chowder or frying later on in the year. Anyway, if you are in the northwest, razorclamming is a ton of fun and well worth the work for this delicacy.

You can read all about razor clams and how to dig for them, as well as where to buy a license, on the Washington State Fishing page.


Anonymous said...

Oh, man, the pics turned out great! Ahhh, I love it and can't wait to do it again!

KSK said...

Wow you are so brave! Glad they were tasty!

Maris said...

Oh my gosh! I would be too freaked out to do that, as much as I love to cook my least favorite part is handling raw meat! I have no problem handling or eating it once it's cooked :)

Nurit said...

oh my goodness. I liked that you said a little prayer for them :)

agentnoir said...

this is too cool! I am so impressed with the way you gutted them! as an aspiring foodie, i am DYING to do this! I'll definitely check out the Washington State Fishing page & plan an excursion.

Anonymous said...

you can't tell me they're dead after 5 seconds of boiling water - their skin might be, like when you burnt your hand!....