I love the breath of possibility that comes with starting a new year. 2013 began with a dreadful head cold, lots of Dungeness crab and a new romance.The year saw a lot of firsts for me – first dive, first kayak, first near-death experience on an elephant. I traveled to Thailand, Istanbul and Florida, and crossed the canyon to the big five-oh.
2014 has begun with a clear head, lots of Razor Clams, and a year-old romance that still feels new – due partially to those Razor Clams…. So I can only imagine the exhilarating possibilities of the year to come.
Beautiful Oysterville sunrise #346.
I drove north to Oysterville right after Christmas with a car full of boxes, and arrived in time to ring in the New Year with my honey and kick off a clam tide. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, these Pac Norwesterners are a bit fanatic about their Razor Clams. They eagerly await the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to announce dig days and locations, based upon a mysterious, Google-like algorithm of clam size, population density, marine toxins and ominous weather. Then they turn out in by the truck-ful to stomp on the sand, shovel in the surf, and bag a limit of big, tender bivalves which they batter, fry or freeze for hard times (i.e. non-clam season).
I’d tried Razor Clamming once, weakly, with my best bud, Hilary. At that point, I wasn’t committed to living in the land of sideways rain and sub-freezing temperatures that don’t involve fluffy snowflakes. I ruined a pair of boots and had to throw away my pants, which had become embedded with so much wet sand DRIVEN INTO THEM BY THE WIND that I could have lined an aquarium. I yielded only a bad attitude and a skeptical disregard for the activity.
Clamming fail for me, cuteness win for Hilary.
But Linda v.2014 wants to try everything at least once….
So when our friend Lynn offered to take me out digging on a sunny afternoon, I jumped at the opportunity.
No, that’s a lie. I tried to get out of it. I had just arrived after a three day drive, and I wanted to spend time with my fella. And it was cold and windy, and….
“I think you should go,” Dan said. “Always take advantage of good weather.” In this case, good weather meant not raining, but it was still in the low 40’s.
“I don’t have boots,” I protested. He produced hip waders, size 8.5. “I don’t have a shovel.” Lynn had enough gear for us both. “I don’t have a license.” Lynn picked up a three-day pass for me on the way.
So I bundled up in four layers, a balaclava, thermal glove liners under rubber gloves, wool socks under my new foot/leg/butt-wear. I was Randy in his snowsuit, and after a celebratory snort of coconut rum, I was warm inside and out and ready to dig.
The beach was well-populated, though Lynn said during really good tides you are virtually bonking elbows with your fellow clammers.
Lynn and helper Jazzy looking for clam show.
Razor clams lurk just under the surface and you need to encourage them to give up their twenty by stomping or pounding on the ground and then looking for the clam “show” – a hole, dimple or donut in the sand that looks different from all the other holes in the sand. Once you spot a likely candidate, there are two methods of bringing it home – with a shovel or a gun. Purists insist on a shovel, but the neatly efficient clam gun is my weapon of choice.
Despite its classification, the clam gun is not a firearm, (though I suppose that’s an option) but a nifty tube with a handle and a vacuum hole. You plunge and twist your tube into the sand, cover the hole with your thumb, then lift WITH YOUR LEGS and release your plug of sand and hopefully, clam. If you haven’t gone deep enough and missed the clam, you can dig again, or just get on your hands and knees and shove your arm down the hole and wrastle it out mano a clamo. Razor clams are strong and determined diggers, so you have to work fast.
Lynn was spotting show every five seconds or so, and before long had bagged her limit of 15. She found my first two holes for me, I dug my clams with joyous satisfaction, then I found the rest on my own. For a grand total of four clams.
By then, the sun had set, the surf was rising, and since we had enough clams for a meal, we headed home to the sandy yet satisfying process of clam cleaning.
My four and Lynn’s limit.
First, you set some water on to boil, then you open a couple of beers. Once the beers are gone, you briefly douse the clams in the boiling water, then plunge them into ice water. This pops the shells right off and then you can get to the “meat” of things.
Naked Razor Clam
Preparing Razor clams for eating involves a lot of snipping, squeezing, and slicing – for some, a disgusting process that lies somewhere between deveining a prawn and mutilating a penis. I perhaps enjoyed it too much.
There are piles of recipes out there for razor clam meat – chowder, fritters, pasta sauces – but probably the best and simplest way is to bread and pan-fry them.
Flour, egg, Willabay breading
Quickly browned in peanut oil, (too long and they’ll toughen up) the clams were tender and delectable. I was hooked. I made a whatever’s in the fridge tartar sauce that is going in the recipe book, and counted my blessings.
garlic/ginger tartar sauce
1 cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon lime juice
Zest from 1 lime
1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
1 Tablespoon chopped ginger
Combine all ingredients and let flavors meld for an hour or so. Serve with fried razor clams, oysters, fish, or eat it by the spoonful.
Two days later, Dan and I were recovering from a remarkably civilized New Year’s eve party by working all day in the Oysterville Sea Farms retail store. Dan, of course, ran the show, but I helped as best I could – weighing steamer clams, cleaning crabs, bagging oysters in ice. By 5 PM, I was ready to put a pork loin in the oven and put my feet up while it roasted. But it was also an excellent clam tide — low, long and dry, and I had one day left on my license.
“You have to take advantage of these opportunities when you have them,” Dan said to me.
I was tired, cold, and in no mood to squish around in the dark. But I wanted to be a good sport, and I’ve never regretted following his lead. So we pulled on the rubbers, pulled out the clam gun, found batteries for the head lamps, and headed out into the setting sun.
The nearly-empty beach and dozens of telltale dig-outs were a good sign that people had limited-out early.
But I got to walk in the shimmering surf by lantern light with my sweetheart and…I got my limit.
We went home and uncorked a Maryhill white. Dan had more work to do, so I cleaned the whole pile of clams while sipping wine, dancing to Arctic Monkeys radio, and giggling at my good fortune at having the most marvelous start ever to a new year.
By the time the clams were cleaned, I was too tired to cook them, but I remembered Hilary telling me about a delicious Razor clam ceviche concocted by our friend Sandy (see last year’s Crabby New Year post). I happened to have most of the components on hand. I didn’t have a fresh jalapeño, but I used several jerks of Tabasco, which heated up the ceviche just fine and even added a touch more acid.
Razor clam ceviche
6 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 2 limes and one lemon
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 1/2 cups chopped razor clams
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, cover, and let “cook” for at least 1 hour. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Serve with tortilla chips or Romaine lettuce spears.
The ceviche was a lovely change-up to a New Year’s pork roast and the perfect antidote to the overindulgences of the previous evening. And starting the year with fresh-caught seafood is surely a portent of bounty to come.
As we we scooped up the ceviche with tortilla chips and slurped the last of the “leche de tigre,” I marveled at just how lucky I am to have someone in my life who pushes me to take advantage of good weather and great opportunity.
And maybe I’ll even learn to push myself to always go for my limit. The season is shorter than it seems.