It’s been nearly a year since my last razor clam dig. I missed all the nighttime fall digs. Last weekend marked that point in the calendar and tide table when the digs switch over to morning, and on Sunday the moon was kind enough to give us a 9:30 a.m. low tide, which meant a leisurely breakfast in camp after a night of wine and whiskey.
I was with my friends the Coras, immortalized in the morel chapter of Fat of the Land, and had my daughter Ruby in tow. We hit the beach south of Twin Harbors State Park an hour before the turn, bundled up against a cold wind and ready to bag some razors.
The shows on this morning were fairly cryptic. I saw a lot of clammers pacing the flats with near-empty mesh bags. The key was in recognizing even the slightest hint of a show, sometimes no more than the smallest suggestion of a dimple in the sand. Most times, even when I doubted my eyes, I came away with a clam for the effort.
The problem in these conditions is gauging the size of the clams; it was virtually impossible with such minimalist shows. My clams varied widely in stature, though I managed to get a few nice ones, along with more than a fair share that were just average. It’s shaping up to be a year of average size from what I’ve been hearing. Who knows why. Could be ocean conditions, food supply, naturally occurring toxins in the water impeding growth. Or maybe it’s just a cyclical thing. I didn’t see a single six-incher.
Ruby did yeoman’s work reaching into the holes to capture fleeing razors before they dug themselves to freedom. At one point a wave came in and caught me mid-pull. I could only watch as wet sand leaked from my gun and the golden flash of a razor slipped out and into the current. Well, that’s not entirely true. I lunged after it, and knocked Ruby over in the process. Even though her fashionable little rubber boots with tattoos of skulls and hearts filled instantly with cold water, we both scrambled after the clam as if dinner depended on it. The razor bobbed up in the surf and then went under again. We knee-walked after it, stabbing at the water with our hands. When I came up with the razor after another mad dash in the waves Ruby cheered. Then she realized she was soaked. End of dig for Ruby.
We got her dried off and comfortable in the van and then I went back out and got my limit. The Coras got their limits soon after, and just like that, game over. Even on the more challenging days the clamming always seems to go by too quickly.
Back home we cleaned our catch and decided a razor clam pasta would be the blue plate special of the day. I’m a huge fan of Pasta alle Vongole. This dish is similar, but because razors need to be exhumed from their shells and cleaned before cooking, you don’t get that bonus liquor that makes instant sauce as with hardshell clams. West Coast razors, of course, make up for this shortcoming with unparalleled flavor. I added chopped tomatoes to buttress the sauce. Freshly made pasta is best.
1 1/2 cups razor clams, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
10 oz linguini
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
2 cups tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp oregano, chopped (optional)
1 cup parsley, chopped
2 tbsp basil, chopped (optional)
saffron or red pepper flakes (optional)
1/3 cup parmesan, grated
1. In a large sauce pan, sweat the onions and garlic over medium heat in the butter and olive oil. Add wine (I added several strands of saffron to wine half an hour beforehand) and cook for a few minutes, then add tomatoes and oregano and simmer 10 – 15 minutes. If sauce gets too thick, add a splash of water.
2. If using fresh pasta, add the razor clams to sauce when adding pasta to boil; if dried, wait until pasta is half-cooked. The razors only need a few minutes of cooking.
3. Drain and toss pasta in a large bowl with sauce, parsley, and any other herbs. Serve with parmesan.