Category Archives: clams

Bouillabaisse, Northwest-style

halibut3Fish stews—bouillabaisse, cioppinochowder, bisque, fish head soup, and so on—are some of my favorite meals. Don’t let the authenticity police scare you into passing on such hearty and satisfying fare. These dishes are meant to be simple, to let the ingredients speak for themselves, even when we gussy them up with pretension.

In Marseilles, partisans have been arguing over the ingredients and presentation of a proper bouillabaisse for as long as anyone can remember. Ignore the guy who tells you you’re doing it wrong if you don’t use a freakin’ rascasse fer chrissakes. (The rascasse, also called a scorpionfish, is a Mediterranean species often used in bouillabaisse…in southern France.) Nor do you need to serve it in two courses, with rouille.

The point of dishes like bouillabaisse or cioppino is to use whatever is fresh and on hand. In fact, I’d bet the origin of these dishes is probably less palatable than many would like to believe. The fish were probably those left unsold by the fishmonger or on the verge of being…shall we say…less than perfectly fresh. Perhaps they were bycatch on the boat, the sort of fishes that wouldn’t earn the fishermen any money. Into the stew pot they went, along with whatever else was lying around: onions, garlic, tomato, maybe a fennel bulb.

Since it’s the 21st century and most of us won’t be cooking this dish on board a fishing vessel at an ungodly hour in between sets, we needn’t worry about making use of deck flotsam. We should try to find the best, freshest fish available wherever we live. I happen to live in the Pacific Northwest, not on the Mediterranean, so it makes sense to use local Puget Sound shellfish and cold-water finned fish from the North Pacific. I was in Cordova, Alaska, last week for opening day of the Copper River salmon season. Instead of bringing home a box full of sockeye or king like everyone else on my Alaska Airlines flight, I nabbed me some halibut, which yielded four beautiful fillets and a carcass begging to be used for stock. (The salmon was too valuable as income for my hosts to give away.)

A mix of fish makes a more interesting bouillabaisse. Along with the halibut, I added Alaskan rockfish, Penn Cove mussels, and shrimp. Other choices in my region might include lingcod, Pacific cod, pollock, flounder, Dungeness crab, manila clams, and spot shrimp. You could use salmon, but the strong and distinctive flavor would overwhelm the other ingredients. My nods to tradition included fennel, saffron, and orange zest, though I didn’t bother with leeks or Pernod (though a licorice fern infusion could have given it that extra touch of anise flavor).

You can use store-bought fish stock or clam juice, but a homemade stock is best—a good excuse for buying that whole fish at the market and saving a bunch of money by filleting it yourself and using the scraps for stock.

Stock

1 (or more) white-fleshed fish carcass (enough to fill bottom of pot)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 or 2 celery ribs, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 handful parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Cover fish carcass (in this case, halibut) with water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add onion, carrot, celery, white wine, bay leaf, thyme, parsley. Simmer together another 20 minutes, until fish flesh is easily separated from the bones. Add more water if necessary. Season and strain. Yield: 1 quart.

Bouillabaisse

2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine (or splash of Pernod)
2-3 cups tomatoes, cut up
1 pinch saffron
1 pinch hot red pepper flakes
2 tsp orange zest
1 quart fish stock (see above)
3-4 lbs assorted white fish fillets cut into pieces and shellfish
1 handful parsley, chopped

In a pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onion and fennel until softened. Deglaze with a splash of white wine. Add garlic, tomatoes, saffron, pepper flakes, and orange zest. Raise heat to medium-high and cook together a few minutes. Stir in 1 quart fish stock and bring to low boil. Add fish fillet pieces and cook several minutes (depending on thickness). Note: if using a mixture of firm fish and softer fish, add in stages to allow even cooking. Lastly, add shellfish and cover. When the shellfish are cooked, stir in parsley and remove from heat. Ladle immediately over crusty bread (optional: toast bread and rub with cut garlic). Serves 4.

 

Razor Clam Ceviche

The second annual Razor Clam Hootenanny, in association with the Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec outdoor program, was a huge success. Twenty eager students gathered last weekend at a sprawling house on Mockrocks Beach to dig clams and feast on the bounty. Because of the spring tide change, we were able to bookend an evening dig on Saturday with a Sunday morning dig for maximum limit action. Many of us nabbed clams on Friday evening as well. A three-dig limit of 45 mossbacks makes for a full bag o’ clams!

The digging on Saturday evening was a little more challenging than either Friday evening or Sunday morning. Heavy surf meant the clams weren’t showing like usual, and regular rogue waves had clammers scrambling for high ground. Still, we got our clams, and some of us learned that it’s not always like shooting tuna in a can. I welcome these tough conditions because they force the clammer to hone her abilities and develop a sharp eye for even the most cryptic of shows.

Saturday night’s feast was epic, with two varieties of New England Clam Chowder (one, my grandmother’s recipe, with bacon, thyme, and a thin milky broth; the other thick and creamy with celery); a ceviche with razors, cod, and shrimp; panko-fried razors; and a hearty Pasta alle Vongole. We had the kind folks from Treveri Cellars on hand pouring their excellent bubbly and John Adams of Sound Fresh Clams & Oysters was shuckin’ and jivin’ as he produced platter after platter of Skookum Point Olys, Kumamotos, and Pacific oysters.

It was a boisterous, fun-loving crowd, and the pre-dawn wake-up call for one more dig on Sunday morning was not without its difficulties.

***

While in New York City recently I had a good meal at a new place in Soho called Charlie Bird. One of the standouts was a razor clam ceviche. The Atlantic razor clamEnsis directus, is very different in appearance from our beefy West Coast variety, Siliqua patula, and more deserving of the name. They’re smaller, and quite long and thin—like the straight razor of old. The ceviche came prepared on several clam shells. It was unmixed, with each ingredient—pickled peppers, onion, and so on—in colorful little piles. You were meant to slurp it all together in one bite like an oyster.

Such a presentation is difficult with our big local razors (see top photo), since it’s more than a mouthful, but there’s no reason why we can’t use the shell as a serving dish, or even mix up the ingredients at table right in the shell.

 

I don’t see West Coast razors as ceviche often, whereas it seems to be all the rage right now on the East Coast. Maybe this is because of the presence of domoic acid, a naturally occurring marine toxin in the Pacific (and the inspiration for Hitchcock’s The Birds) that can cause shellfish amnesiac poisoning and even death in high doses. The thing is, this toxin can’t be cooked out of razor clams, so there’s no difference between fried razors and ceviche with regard to domoic acid. Thankfully, state fish & wildlife departments carefully monitor the health of our shellfish.

This recipe is Japan Goes South of the Border. I use only the clam siphons as I prefer to save my diggers (the razor clam’s tender foot) for fried clams; besides, the siphon has a snappiness that’s perfect for ceviche. The amounts below are estimates; depends on the size of your clams and vegetables, and besides, with a little common sense it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out the right proportions. You can easily halve it for a smaller batch.

1 dozen razor clam siphons, cleaned and diced
2-3 cloves garlic, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
2-3 jalapeño peppers, diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
large handful cilantro, chopped
2 limes
aji-mirin
rice vinegar
tortillas, warmed
avocado, sliced
salt and pepper

1. Squeeze limes and mix juice with diced razor clams and garlic in a small non-reactive bowl. Season with salt and pepper plus a good splash of aji-mirin to taste and set aside. A general rule of thumb for ceviche is 1/2 cup citrus juice per pound of fish.

2. Cover diced red onion with rice vinegar and set aside. Chop together jalapeño pepper and cilantro if presenting ceviche unmixed.

3. Refrigerate at least an hour, preferably several hours.

4. Serve, mixed or unmixed, in razor clam shells or a small bowl with warm tortillas and avocado. Serves 4.

I have to say, this was easily one of the best ceviches I’ve ever had. Razor clams have a pleasing al dente texture. Steeped in the acidic lime juice, their flavor mellows, and aji-mirin adds a perfect finish. I’ll be making razor clam ceviche after every dig from now on.

Pimentón Clams and Pig Face

This post is a shout-out to my peeps in the shellfish dept. One of the benefits of helming FOTL is the opportunity to share my experiences with others keen to forage and cook wild foods—a recipe for good times in the outdoors, with fun people.

My shellfish classes, in particular, have escalated (perhaps as word has gotten out and each subsequent class is intent on besting the previous one) into veritable bacchanals. There’s something about working up a sweat on the tide flats and then whumping together a feast over campstoves that encourages plenitude: folks show up with champagne, beer, cheese, salumi, cookies, and other treats. We’ve had basement apple wine, home-cured sausage, and empanadas. There’s almost always a fillet or two of smoked salmon and recently someone brought bento boxes packed full of potstickers, barbecued pork, and candied almonds.

On the trail to the tidelands – (c) Susan Choi

The blueprint is simple. Everyone meets at the beach, where we make introductions and go over some key points of identification, biology, habitat, foraging technique, regulations, and precautions. Then we hit the shellfish beds to gather our limits of clams and oysters. The rest of the day is spent hanging out back at the picnic shelter, cooking our catch.

My co-leader, John Adams, manages Taylor Shellfish‘s Dosewallips facility. As a third-generation shellfish farmer, he also has his own family business, Sound Fresh Clams & Oysters, where he’s been making a name all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond for his Skookum Point oysters. Recently a writer from Bon Appetit dropped by to sample John’s stuff.

An oyster bed for bivalve dreams – (c) Susan Choi

John and I are fortunate to have Jeff Ozimek, outdoor programs coordinator at Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec, in our corner. Jeff is the mastermind behind all this fun, and Seattle Parks & Rec (if they ever have a budget windfall) would be smart to look across the pond to see what Jeff is doing to get his community outside interacting with the natural world.

For my part, after the clams have been dug and the oysters picked, I get to relax a little bit. Delegation carries the day as the students do the prepping and cooking. Usually there are a few who lead the charge. This past weekend Team France made Steamed Clams with Wine and Herbs while Team China filled a wok with Spicy Black Bean Clams. I watched, offering the occasional advice and encouragement. We all slurped oysters until we could eat no more.

We usually get a few “repeat offenders” at each class. This time around we were pleased to have back photographer Susan Choi, who graciously provided most of the photos for this post.

Even the rain couldn’t put a damper on the proceedings. John built a fire, the canopies went up, and we continued the feast. Finally, well past dark, the park security detail had to shoo us out. Everyone went home with plenty of shellfish.

Picking the right oyster: Does it have a deep pocket? – (c) Susan Choi
***

Pimentón Clams and Pig Face looks back to my new year’s resolution to cook more improvisationally. It’s a variation on Pasta alle Vongole, and a keeper. The pig face of the title, smoked jowl, is a lot like bacon, but try to find the jowl if you can because its mix of succulence and crispiness can’t be beat. Combined with the clams, smoked paprika, sweet red pepper, and some white wine, the resulting sauce makes for a distinctively Iberian way to dress up pasta.

I’ve made steamed clam dishes that hail from all over the world. Italian clams and Thai clamsMexican clams and Japanese clams. This riff on Spanish clams turned out so good that I expect the recipe below to take its place in the inner circle of my go-to clam dishes.

Linguini with Clams, Pimentón & Smoked Pig Jowl

10 oz linguini
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 lb smoked pig jowl, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp crushed red chili pepper flakes
1/4 tsp semisweet (or sweet) smoked paprika
salt, to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 dozen manila clams
2 handfuls wild watercress, dandelion greens, or arugula, torn
parsley, chopped for garnish

1. In a large, deep-sided saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low and slowly cook diced jowl, rendering fat until the meat is crispy, about 30 minutes of mostly untended cooking with occasional stirring.

2. While the jowl is rendering, bring a pot of water to boil and add linguini. Cook until not quite al dente, drain, and set aside.

3. When diced jowl is crispy, raise heat to medium, add onions, and cook in pork fat for a minute before adding garlic and red pepper. Cook together for another 2 minutes. Stir in crushed red pepper flakes and paprika. Salt to taste.

3. Raise heat to high, de-glaze with white wine, and allow to bubble for 30 seconds, stirring, before adding clams and covering.

4. When clams begin to open, mix in greens and linguini. Continue to stir, coating pasta and reducing liquid if necessary. Serve and garnish with chopped parsley.

Serves 2.

Drinking wine, working the wok – (c) Susan Choi

A Forager’s Thanksgiving

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re lucky to have a climate that allows for foraging year-round, even during the dark, wet days of late fall and winter. If you’re hoping to include a few wild foods in your Thanksgiving feast, keep reading…

Wild Mushrooms

By late November, those of us in Washington need to think more strategically about our mushroom hunting spots. The bread-and-butter golden chanterelle harvest is mostly done by this time, the surviving specimens oversized, floppy, and waterlogged. Skiers own the mountains now and even many low-elevation habitats should be ruled out because of recurring hard frosts. Head for the coast or the southern Olympic Peninsula and look for microclimates where fungi can persist. Search out those hardier winter species such as yellowfoot chanterelles and hedgehogs. Hint: they prefer moist, mossy forests and plenty of woody decay.

If you’re willing to travel, make tracks for southwestern Oregon where kings and matsutake are still available. My favorite this time of year, though, is the black trumpet, which is just starting to fruit and can be found in mixed forests with oak. Sautéed in a little butter, it tastes just like fall.

Shellfish

We’re coming into the high time for shellfish. The summer spawn is over and the clams, mussels, oysters, and crabs are putting meat back in their shells, rather than using their fat reserves for reproduction.

Many a Nor’westerner likes to give a regional twist to the Turkey Day dinner, including a shellfish course of soup or stew, or simply a mess of Dungeness crabs on the table to kick off the proceedings. I try to dive for my crabs when I can, though the seafood market is a dry alternative. One year I made a Dungie crab bisque for twenty. It was time-consuming peeling all that crab—I’d recommend shelling out (pardon the pun) for lump crab meat instead—but oh so decadent and delicious. Unfortunately, by the time the labor-intensive bisque was ready, I think many of us were too deep into a Northwest wine tasting to fully appreciate it.

An elegant, tomato-based shellfish stew in the Italian tradition is a great way to charm your guests and add European flair to the American meal. I make one chock full of clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, and squid (note: Seattle’s public fishing pier is host to a multi-lingual party of midnight squidders this time of year that is not to be missed). You can find my shellfish stew recipe in Fat of the Land. Or try a simple New England-style Clam Chowder, of which I have a couple recipes, here and here. Steamed littleneck clams can be easily gathered and prepared in minutes. A splash of white with a few sprigs of parsley and couple smashed garlic cloves is all it takes, or you can add a bit more prep time for Clams with Herbed Wine Sauce. Don’t forget crusty bread for dipping.

The South Sound and Hood Canal are good options for digging littleneck clams and picking oysters, while razor clam digs on the sandy ocean beaches are a time-honored way to stock the larder. In Oregon, Tillamook and Netarts bays are popular with clam diggers. Check the state Fish & Wildlife web sites for information on beach openings and limits.

Greens

Some of our spring weeds reappear in fall with the cool weather. One of the better bets is wild watercress, which can be gathered in quantity and tastes so much better than its domesticated counterpart. Spice up your green salad with watercress, pair it with wild mushrooms in a stuffing, or make a soup or side dish with it.

Berries

We’re lucky to have a dozen varieties of huckleberry in Washington and Oregon. Our late ripening variety is the evergreen huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, and it’s often available right around Thanksgiving. Of all the huckleberries, it’s one of the easiest to pick, with sweet berries that can be pulled off the branches in bunches, so get your fill, though be warned: as with our fall mushrooms, this is not a good evergreen huckleberry year. Should you find some, there’s nothing better than a huckleberry pie or cobbler to put an exclamation mark on a wild Thanksgiving meal.

Matsutake and Shellfish Soup

I’ve been getting emails about our lackluster fall mushroom season in the Pacific Northwest. Even NPR did a story on it—and they pretty much got it right. The mushrooms tried to pop right on schedule—and in some cases, such as with lobsters and white chanterelles, they succeeded—but the long dry spell in September burned much of the crop and then that first big storm in mid-October wiped it out.

Many a mushroom hunter was hoping the rain would have the immediate effect of causing a huge—if belated—flush. My hunch is that the mycelia had already formed primordia, and the deadly combo of drought followed by deluge dealt a knockout one-two punch. At this point we should be hoping for winter species like yellowfeet and hedgehogs, though I’m not optimistic.

The other day I picked a spot on the Olympic Peninsula that’s usually carpeted with mushrooms this time of year. We salvaged a few matsutake and passed by many more that had clearly suffered heat exhaustion. Yellowfeet were nowhere in evidence, and just a couple hogs had managed to fruit. A half-dozen cauliflower mushrooms saved the day, but even those showed signs of distress with obvious yellowing of the ruffles.

Cauliflower mushroom

Still, a half-pound of #4 matsutake is all it takes to make a good meal, and there’s something sweet about using wild main ingredients from two different kingdoms. This is a dish I had once over at Idle Wylde, the home of Foraged and Found Edibles proprietor Jeremy Faber. In typical fashion, he didn’t even remember making it when I asked for the recipe. I told him it included manila clams, matsutake, and leeks. “Makes sense,” he said, “matsi and shellfish go together.” So I tried to reconstruct it from my own hazy memory banks and the result was astonishingly good. At least, that’s what Marty said, and I have to agree.

1/2 lb matsutake mushrooms (or more), sliced
1 lb littleneck clams in the shell, scrubbed
1 lb mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
2 leeks, white part only, sliced
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 cup sake
1 cup chicken stock
1 scallion, thinly sliced for garnish

1. Saute sliced leeks in peanut oil in heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, 2 minutes.

2. Add matsutake and cook together another couple minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sake and chicken stock and allow to simmer together a few minutes so the broth absorbs the singular matsi flavor.

3. Raise heat to high, add shellfish, and cover. Remove from heat when the clams and mussels have opened, careful not to overcook. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sliced scallion.

Serves 2 for dinner, or 4 as an appetizer.

Thick and Creamy New England Clam Chowder

I get asked about chowders a lot, especially by transplanted East Coasters, many of whom fondly remember a thick and creamy boardwalk-style clam chowder from their youths, when they went down to the shore on family vacations.

Here on the West Coast, razor clams and butter clams—large, meaty, and loaded with bivalve flavor—are the chowder clams of choice (though geoduck makes a good chowder, as does the horse clam).

But smaller hardshelled clams like the native littleneck and non-native manila can be used for chowder, too. The manila in particular is a bread-and-butter species around Puget Sound and can be easily collected on some beaches virtually every day of the year. Most of the time I steam my manilas and eat them out of the shell, as in Pasta alle Vongole, Black Bean Clams, Thai Red Curry Clams, Clams with Herbed Wine Sauce, and so on. Sometimes, though, the New Englander in me demands a chowder.

I usually turn to my grandmother Mimi’s chowder recipe, which you can find in Fat of the Land. This was a recipe used mainly for flaky, white fish, notably cod, which we ate every summer at their home on Cape Cod. It uses salt pork, and it’s relatively thin. I also understand the appeal of the sort of thick and creamy chowders that we’ve all had at clam shacks one time or another. The recipe below is one of those chowders, based on a recipe developed by the local Seattle fish ‘n’ chips house, Ivar’s. It’s a piscatarian chowder, which is to say it doesn’t rely on bacon or salt pork. A couple limits of manilas will make this chowder.

1 cup white wine
3 – 4 cloves garlic, smashed
several sprigs parsley
1 1/2 cups clam meat
2 – 3 cups clam broth
2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
4 cups half and half, warmed
salt and pepper
dash red pepper flakes

1. Steam 80 manila clams in wine, garlic, and parsley. When clams have opened, strain broth through fine mesh sieve and save; you should have at least 2 cups. Remove meat from shells and roughly chop; you should have between 1 – 2 cups.

2. In a medium saucepan, simmer onions, celery, and potato in clam broth until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed pot, melt butter over medium heat. Slowly add flour, whisking, to make a roux. When roux is golden, slowly pour in warmed half and half while continuing to whisk. Add clam broth and vegetables and continue to stir. If chowder is still too thick, add more warm milk or half and half (or warm water, chicken stock, or clam juice).

4. Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper. Garnish with oyster crackers. Wear your lobster bib.

Razor Clam Linguini

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.

Dept. of Horn-blowing

Here at FOTL headquarters we’re pleased to announce a couple profile-raising media events of late. First, check out the September issue of Sunset magazine: “Digging for Dinner,” page 80. The eight-page spread will tell you all you need to know to embark on a West Coast clamming adventure.

Second, take a peek at Daniel Klein’s latest webisode (#68) of Perrenial Plate, featuring seaside foragers Hank Shaw and yours truly, oyster farmer John Adams, and Herbfarm chef Chris Weber. Here’s what you don’t see in the video. Earlier in the morning John, Daniel, and I dug for a truly stupendous geoduck near the low tide line only to be thwarted by its depth, the seriously vacuum-sealed nature of its lair, and the inexorable force of the rising tide. This was a bummer because it was a BIG clam and I think we all had visions of grandeur before the harsh reality of a failed dig set in. So we regrouped farther up the beach and ran into a whole new host of problems, including a nasty substrate of broken oyster shells and then the coup de grace captured on film… Really, I thought the miserable sound of crunching wood—a broken shovel—was the death knell. Tune in to find out what happens.

The Perennial Plate Episode 68: A Tale of Three Seasides from Daniel Klein on Vimeo.

Geoduck Crudo with Wild Wood Sorrel

By now you know what a geoduck is. But what’s a crudo? Besides being a hip culinary term that seems to be increasingly fashionable on both coasts, crudo means raw in Italian and is used to describe a raw fish dish that usually incorporates olive oil, sea salt, and some sort of citrus or vinegar.

For shellfish enthusiasts, a crudo is another way to enjoy the raw neck meat of a geoduck clam. In past posts I’ve written about Geoduck Sashimi and Geoduck Ceviche. Now add this crudo to the repertoire. I boosted the basic recipe with wild wood sorrel (Oxalis oregona) for an extra tart and lemony edge. You can also use sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosa) to the same effect. The two plants are unrelated, but each contains oxalic acid, the compound responsible for the tartness.

1/4 cup loosely packed wood sorrel, stemmed
1/4 cup olive oil
sea salt
Shichimi Togarashi
lime

1. Blend the wood sorrel, olive oil, and sea salt in a food processor until the wood sorrel is pulpy. Using a baking spatula, remove mixture and press oil through a wire mesh strainer or cheesecloth into a small dish or glass.

2. Slice geoduck neck as thinly as possible and arrange slices on a plate. Drizzle sorrel-infused oil generously over geoduck and garnish with a few shakes of Shichimi Togarashi and lime juice.

For a chunkier alternative, use a mortar and pestle to pulverize wood sorrel, olive oil, and sea salt. Spoon over geoduck.

Horsing Around: Clam and Corn Chowder

Have I mentioned I’m originally from New England? Thought so. This simple fact gives me license to bitch about the lack of a decent clam shack in Seattle. Make that the West Coast. Sure, we have oyster bars like Walrus and Carpenter, Frank’s, and Elliott’s Oyster House. But I’m talking about clam shacks, the sort of place where a dozen oysters on the half shell can commingle peacefully with a greasy basket of fried clams or a lobster…err…Dungeness crab roll. The sort of place with picnic tables, plastic tablecloths, and beer, lots of it.

I was talking about this problem with Seattle’s house forager, Jeremy Faber, recently. Faber’s a New Yorker so he knows about these things, too. Tried as we could, we couldn’t come up with a single clam shack worthy of the name in the Puget Sound region. Despite an embarrassment of shellfish riches, clam shack culture just doesn’t seem to exist here. Go east, though, and you won’t have any trouble finding it in Rhode Island or Massachusetts or even New Jersey. The clam shack is a venerable Atlantic Coast tradition and I miss it.

So is the clam bake. When I lived on Martha’s Vineyard we used to get a mess of clams, build a bonfire on the beach, and steam the clams right in the coals with seaweed and a bunch of other good stuff. Corn on the cob, f’rinstance.

I guess it’s a summertime East Coast thing. And so is this bowl of soup, which is a virtual New England clam bake in a bowl. Except it uses horse clams. That’s a West Coast thing. A big-ass clam for sure. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the horse clam (also called a gaper). It can trick a geoduck digger occasionally, and the meat isn’t good for much other than chowder or fritters. But if you’re making a chowder, you only need one or two good-sized horse clams to close the deal. Corn sweetens the deal, as does red bell pepper.

There are two species of horse clams commonly dug from Alaska to California, Tresus nuttallii and Tresus capax. You can distinguish a horse clam by its shell, which is almost diamond-shaped and doesn’t completely close over the siphon, lending it the name gaper. Like geoducks, they’re found in the lower tidal zone of muddy beaches; unlike geoducks, the tip of a horse clam’s siphon isn’t smooth and often has barnacles or bony plates attached (note the barnacle in the photo). Here in Washington I suspect many horse clams are sport harvested by accident while diggers are going after geoducks or butter clams. That’s certainly the case with these bad boys, unearthed in a case of mistaken identity during a recent ‘duck-a-thon.

Horse clams, as I said, are big-ass clams—and this is a kick-ass chowder. Go make some. But first dig some. If you serve it to your West Coast significant-other-partner-hyphen you might just get some. Oh, and if you know of a half-decent clam shack in the Northwest, leave a comment.

Clam and Corn Chowder

2 horse clams, cleaned and sliced (or 2 cups chopped clams)
2 cups corn (about 4 ears)
3 slices slab bacon, diced
1 onion
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced (reserve sliced green tops)
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
2 cups stock (chicken or clam broth, or both)
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
butter
salt and white pepper

1. Saute diced bacon in heavy-bottomed pot until rendered and nearly crispy. Add onions and scallions and saute until translucent. Add potatoes, corn, and red peppers and cook together several minutes. Add a knob of butter if necessary.

2. Add chicken stock. Simmer until potatoes soften.

3. At this point I like to give the immersion blender a quick workout to thicken and blend the chowder. I blend a quarter to a third of the chowder in the pot, leaving the rest chunky.

4. Stir in clams with their juice plus reserved sliced scallions. Add milk and cream. Simmer a few more minutes until clams thoroughly cooked. Adjust seasonings.

Serve with bread or oyster crackers.