They’re coming … and the sun isn’t even up yet.
Normally, the ocean waves are the only noise you hear on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. But on designated “clam tides,” the roar of hundreds of cars heading to its famous 28 miles of beach sounds like a freeway.
Clam lovers, many who are also RVers, dig for Pacific razor clams, one of a family of long, slim-shelled clams (resembling a straight razor) that occurs on select coasts around the world. Some are fatter or slimmer; some are longer or shorter, but all have the characteristic narrow, razor-like shell. They also have a powerful “foot” for fast digging.
From Labrador, Canada to South Carolina, the razor clam is called the Atlantic jackknife. The razor shell (or razor fish) lives on sandy beaches in Eastern Canada, especially on Prince Edward Island. In the West, the Pacific razor clam — one of the tastiest — is found from Pismo Beach, Calif., to the eastern Aleutian Islands in Alaska where they can grow up to 11 inches.
Worth the Cold and Wet
On Washington’s Long Beach — one of the best razor clam beaches around — thousands of clammers stand along the muddy tide line. They’re looking for little holes or depressions indicating a clam. Most wear knee-high rubber boots, though surf clammers (who hunt at or below the tide line) wear chest-high waders. Some diggers use thin, curved clam shovels. Most use clam “guns” — aluminum or plastic PVC pipe tubes with handles that quickly suck up wet sand.
When diggers spot a clam, they plunge the shovel or gun into the sand. The shoveler digs madly; gunners push and twist the tube into the sand, pull up sand and, hopefully, the clam. Often, clammers must plunge their arms into the cold, wet hole to grab the clam. If they’re fast — and lucky — they’ll emerge with a 3- to 7-inch-long razor clam.
Razor clam harvest is strictly controlled. In Washington, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife designates “clam weekends” and each clammer must buy a license and is limited to 15 clams (regardless of size or condition) per day. (Elsewhere, regulations differ, so check first.) Fines for clamming without a license or taking more than the limit are steep.
Clams are best during cold, wet months like April. In fact, there’s an old adage that you can clam in months with an “R” in them, but it’s best to check first. Also, toxic tides can close beaches.
After “limiting,” clammers must clean clams or turn them over to clam cleaners. It’s important to separate the clams from their sharp shells, remove any fibrous membrane and thoroughly rinse off the sand.
Clam necks have to be pounded to ensure tenderness and are often reserved for clam chowder. The diggers or “foot” are the most tender and tastiest. A light battering of egg, flour, and cracker crumbs and a quick fry in butter does the trick.
The first time you bite into a razor clam with its crispy outside, tender-chewy inside and rich clammy-briny flavor, you’ll know, like thousands of clammers, that the sand, the cold and all the work are definitely worth it. So, if you’re anywhere near a razor clam beach, get out there and dig your limit!
Got a favorite clamming spot you’d like to share?
Let Bobbie know by sending an email (with Road Foodie in the subject line) to [email protected]