Have you ever tasted one of the specialties from the Pacific Coast in Washington State? Razor Clams? Ah, if you are into seafood, you will LOVE them – they are sweet, clammy, and big, juicy and chewy, and utmost fun from start to finish. Start as in digging and finish as in eating. If you live in Western Washington, here’s your big chance to try them this year yet, without any big effort on your side. You just have to go visit the Razor Clam Festival in Ocean Shores on the third weekend of March. My husband and I have never been there, mind you. We prefer razor clams “the hard way”.
Razor clamming is more of a life-style than a hobby, I think. Actually, just as I’m writing this, I have packed 18 gorgeous ones cleaned and ready to be made into a dish into the freezer, three packages of bits and pieces for stews and similar (carnage I wrought, but worth the keeping; it’s the law to keep those, too, anyhow), and four for tonight’s dinner. You have to buy a clamming license from the Washington Department of Fishing and Wildlife (WDFW). You have to know how to discover their digs (the WDFW has a wonderful website on that, and YouTube shows you a lot about it, too). You have to be spontaneous, as digging areas open and close at the snip of a finger. You need to be willing to go in cold and wet weather and at nights – clamming season is winter to early spring, and it’s more often windy, rainy, and cold on clamming dates. And most of them are during darkness. You have to be on time – tides are not waiting for you to be ready. You need to have special gear (clam guns or spades, rubber boots (at least!!!) and warm clothing). You can’t be dainty – you will get wet, dirty, stinky, and cold. You can’t be choosy – you have to book any kind of over overnight place you can get or go in your own RV. You better check that your accommodation has a clam cleaning station. And you have to be prepared … to leave empty-handed.
Over the years, my husband and I have found a favorite clamming area, and we change up hotels and motels just for the fun of it. Don usually carries the gun (we are gunners, not shovelers), and I carry our two nets for two separate limits of 15 razor clams each. Reaching one of those parking lots and running into other clammers, you cannot imagine the vibe of anticipation that those places are simmering with. Everybody is in a good mood. Everybody is keen to get going. You follow the paths through the dunes that have been trodden by generations of clammers. Will you be early enough? Will you get a good spot? Will the clams be there or in deeper places after a storm?
And then, there she is, the sea. Rolling out bale after bale of her beautiful froth, blue or gray or even black with toppings of white where she folds over and crashes. The sand ripples, and there are fake holes luring you into digging where there are only sand shrimps or large pink worms. People in droves. If it’s dark, they will be wearing head lamps or carrying lanterns. I like my headlamp, but I remember one dig with special love when our gas lantern was giving of its sputtering sound as the sea answered with her rhythmic gushing. Last weekend’s digging was in bright sunlight, by the way. Which is extraordinary – daylight is rare enough for clamming. But sunshine?!
This time, Don and I found our clams quickly. We have become good spotters over the years, and we take turns to give each other’s back a rest. Because, let’s face it, clamming is a tough work-out. And I’m not even talking using a spade. You are wiggling our gun down on the clam site. Then you create a vacuum and pull the whole thing out. Meanwhile Mother Nature creates waves and laughs at you, trying to cover your hole with water while you still try to get hold of your clam. 15 clams later (if you are lucky) your personal limit is full and you try to hit the cleaning station ahead of the crowd.
Don and I are boilers. We always bring a gas cooker and we have established a neat cleaning chain. I watch a “how-to”-video every once in a while, to keep my skills up to par. We dip each clam into hot water for three seconds, then into ice water, then discard the shell, cut the snout and tail, discard the bowels, slit all the pipes, wash off the sand and other residue, separate the full-sized clams from the bits into freezer bags and place them on ice. 30 clams mean a good hour’s work during which you get even dirtier and stinkier. But, oh, the pride once it’s done!
We had our first load of fritters right after returning home – were they delicious! Now I’m daydreaming of clam chowder, spaghetti aglio and olio with clams, clams in a white wine sauce, grilled clams, cioppino … In other words: The guy who came up with the word that the world is an oyster definitely had no idea about razor clams. It would have changed his mind.