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In Search of Razor Clams on the Long Beach Peninsula

“Four day razor clam dig opens on Peninsula” The Columbian headline said it all. We already had reservations at the charming Shakti Cove Cottages in Ocean Park for the weekend. I had never dug for clams. I brake for seafood. The stars had aligned. It was time to go clam hunting.

The goal: a plate of razor clams

First things first. I started where I always start all new projects –on the Internet. There were plenty of Web sites offering me advice on equipment, digging, cleaning, cooking, licensing requirements, ideal (and legal) times hours for digging. I had a lot to learn. Clearly it would be easier (and cheaper) to go to a seafood market.

Preparing to Dig Clams
I think Gary would have settled for the seafood market-bought clam route but I nagged all the way to the coast until we arrived at one of my favorite stores in the world, Jack’s Country Store in Ocean Park. While Gary bought groceries I slipped back to the hunting and fishing section where I chose a 24” plastic clam gun, which sounds like a weapon but is just a tube with a handle (the back breaker model, Gary later told me). With the purchase of the “gun,” a bucket and a license, we were committed. We would be ready for the evening low tide, the next day. Except for the clothes.

Years earlier, I tossed my leaky rubber boots, which had served me well while working in an Alaska fish cannery in the early 1980s. So a stop at another favorite store, Dennis Company in Long Beach, yielded new boots, heavy socks and gloves. These yet-to-be caught clams were getting expensive.

Back to the research – How to Razor Clam (a grammatically incorrect but interesting use of words) taught us to, in a nutshell:
-Be in the right place (this was an Oregon publication so it forgot to mention Long Beach)
-Be there at the right time (two hours below peak low tide, preferably a minus tide)
-Find a clam (WAY easier said than done)
-Start digging (no mention the possible need for chiropractic services or massage later on except for the phrase “use proper lifting technique”)

The Hard, But Fun Part
We made our way from Shakti Cove out to the surf and joined hundreds of clammers who were bent over from the waist, scrutinizing the sand and beating the beach with sticks. It only took about 10 minutes for Gary with his highly trained eyes to spot a dimple in the sand. (That OSU engineering education pays off again!)

That was it! I tamped. A hole opened. I followed my How to Razor Clam instructions to the letter by placing the clam gun over the hole but slightly toward the ocean and bore straight down, feeling a sad, tell-tale crunch as I pushed. I put my finger over the air hole on the clam gun and slowly pulled up. Out came our first mollusk – a slightly cracked but whole 5” long clam. At that moment, we all (Gary, me, the clam) were hooked.

Even though our limit was 15, we left the beach (and the rain, wind and my sore back) with eight clams. An experienced clammer, who was grousing that “they weren’t showing,” told us we did well.

The new clam gun, bucket, boots and, ta da, the clams!

I was satisfied and prepared with my next Internet find: How to Clean Razor Clams.

Preparing the Clams
I followed the instructions – putting them first in salt water on the beach, then fresh water so they would pump out sand. I placed the clams in a colander, dousing them with boiling then cold water. Then the slimy work began – pulling the clam body from the shell, snipping off the tough part of the neck, scissoring up the zipper (strange term!), pulling out the “digger” and (the gross part) removing the “dark material” from it. I then cut everything so the pieces would lay flat.

Cleaning the clams

Cooking the Clams
Finally, I was ready to cook, except I hadn’t a clue what to do next. I forgot to bring a recipe. Back to Jack’s, I thought they must have a seafood cookbook. They had recipes for crab and salmon but nothing I could find on clams. Desperate, I accosted a couple who were carrying a new, very nice (not my “backbreaker“ model) clam gun. I pleaded for their advice. Turns out the husband was the clam chef of the family. He led me to a box called “Dixie Fry,” a naturally seasoned coating mix.

Thank you anonymous couple with the cool aluminum clam gun in Jack’s Country Market! I hope you found all the clams you could legally harvest!

Back at the cabin, I followed the recipe, coating the clams with the Dixie Fry, frying them in vegetable oil until they were golden brown. The verdict? They were fantastic. “These are sooooo good,” my reluctant clammer spouse kept saying. Yet another reason why I love Southwest Washington.

The clams and a lovely glass of Riesling from Clark County's East Fork Cellars

Note: New tentative digging dates for razor clams have been announced for March 26-April 1 and April 16-18 on the Long Beach Peninsula. This is dependent on marine toxin tests. Details are at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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12 comments

1 Keleigh { 03.16.10 at 3:47 pm }

Great post. I love your sense of whimsy and how you turned your experience into a photo essay. Try dipping in milk, then flour, then egg, then panko.

2 The goal: a plate of razor clams | { 03.16.10 at 3:47 pm }

[...] this blog post for an entertaining and educational photo essay on the fine art of Razor Clam digging and [...]

3 Katlin Smith { 03.16.10 at 4:36 pm }

Thanks, Keleigh! Glad to see that there are more harvesting dates coming up on the Peninsula. I had no idea how much fun digging (and eating) those clams could be!

4 Sue Anderson { 03.17.10 at 2:24 pm }

We’ve only gone digging for razor clams once – it was a cold, windy, rainy day back in the early 90s. Now, we just buy them already cleaned and cooked!

Still, it’s good you got the chance to try your hand at it and very nice that you did you part to stimulate the coastal economy at the same time!

5 kate McFadden { 05.27.10 at 3:41 pm }

great job with your adventure!!!!!
another outrageous but easy recipe is linguine w clams….. you already had the wine! just chop the clams (not too small) saute lots of garlic (chopped) in olive oil, add the clams and saute, add about 1/2 cup lemon juice, a good splash of white wine and simmer for a bit. add the juice from your clams then adjust the taste with a bit of salt and pepper, sprinkle a handful chopped parsley and spoon over the linguine, grate some romano pecorino cheese over it and you’re in heaven! :) kate

6 admin { 05.27.10 at 3:54 pm }

That sounds totally delicious, Kate! We’ll use your recipe next time! Katlin

7 November: Turkeys, Trees and Low Tides Bearing Treats — Southwest Washington ZEST { 11.02.11 at 3:57 pm }

[...] this ZEST post about a 2010 clam dig at Ocean [...]

8 Happy New Year! January 2012 Calendar — Southwest Washington ZEST { 01.06.12 at 5:39 pm }

[...] Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks. Licenses are required. No clamming is allowed before noon. Go here to read a past ZEST blog post on clamming. For details read the official WDFW announcement. Here are [...]

9 Roman { 02.07.12 at 5:12 pm }

The clam gum in my garage always gets comments. And when I tell people what it is, they think it’s like a potato gun, except it launches clams. If you like razors you might also try something like gaper or butter clams, which are giant. We go to Netarts Bay in Oregon: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/mrp/shellfish/maps/Netarts.asp
Get ready to get muddy!

10 March is for Clams, Charlie Brown and Sasquatch — Southwest Washington ZEST { 02.29.12 at 7:04 pm }

[...] Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks. Licenses are required. No clamming is allowed after noon. Go here to read a past ZEST blog post on clamming. For details read the official WDFW announcement. Here are [...]

11 30 April Events in SW Washington to Get You Out of the House! — Southwest Washington ZEST { 04.01.12 at 3:30 pm }

[...]  April 7-9 – Razor Clam Dig! – Three beaches – Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Kalaloch – will be open for morning razor clam digging all three days. Mocrocks will be open for two days, April 7-8, and Copalis will be open April 7 for one day only. Get the details here. Here is a ZEST post about our first excursion digging those delicious bivalves. [...]

12 March in Southwest Washington: Music, Theatre and More While Wishing for Tulips and Dry, Sunny Days — Southwest Washington ZEST { 02.27.13 at 4:06 pm }

[...] dates) – Razor Clam Digs -  Long Beach Peninsula and other locations- Plan to clam! Go here to read a past ZEST blog post on clamming. For dates and details read the official WDFW [...]

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