This spring’s shellfish classes have been more fun than I could have imagined. Any day playing at the shore is a day well spent, but when you add in a mix of interesting folks and the promise of fresh seafood cooked on site, the bonhomie is nearly boundless.
Those of us who have been digging clams for years sometimes forget there’s a learning curve to seafood foraging—from understanding the different habitats and species to knowing what tools to use. Even the processing and cooking of shellfish can be intimidating to a first-timer.
I should know. Despite having been a regular digger of littlenecks, razors, cockles, and a variety of other bivalves, it was only in the last couple years that I started going after geoducks. Why the wait? I suppose it was a variety of things—their size, the fact that they’re available only during the lowest tides of the year, the specialized cooking techniques, and so on. Geoducks are the big time.
When Jeff Ozimek at Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec (pictured below holding a ‘duck and a small horse clam) proposed a geoduck class, I was admittedly skeptical. Even a seasoned geoducker doesn’t always get his ‘duck. Instead, we initiated the foraging curriculum with some introductory classes that tackled the basics, gathering limits of littlenecks and oysters and then cooking them up at a picnic shelter. But the interest in a geoduck class was high, so we took the plunge.
Despite a late start (the Hood Canal Bridge closed for nuclear submarine traffic) and a somewhat chaotic beginning, during which a few ‘ducks escaped our furious digging efforts as an insurmountable tide flooded in, the class regrouped farther up the beach and managed to dig two geoducks. Everyone had the chance to reach deep into a hole to feel the rubbery neck of a geoduck and then contemplate what it would take to excavate around its shell and wrestle the thing out. Some of us got good and muddy, too.
The biggest letdown was tussling with a huge clam only to find out it was a horse and not a ‘duck, a mistake that can usually be prevented by seeing (or feeling) the tip of the siphon before digging. (The geoduck’s siphon tip is relatively smooth.) But with clam shows all around us and a posse of hungry diggers, it was catch as catch can—and no surprise we rode a few ponies.
Digging ‘ducks (or any clams, for that matter) will give you an appetite. Back at the picnic shelter everyone pitched in to make sashimi and ceviche with the geoduck’s raw neck meat and stir-fried body meat with snap peas, carrots, and onions. Most of the students had never tasted geoduck before. They were just as taken as I was upon first bite by its sweetness and satisfying crunch. The finish on a bite of geoduck sashimi is akin to another local delicacy, the Olympia oyster: that initial sweet clam flavor leads to a slightly coppery or metallic aftertaste that mingles nicely with a drink of white wine or a beer.
Two geoducks fed about a dozen people in all. Not a bad ratio of clam to digger.