Category Archives: geoduck

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.

Kiss My Geoduck

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.

Beginner Shellfish Foraging & Cooking Classes

In association with Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec, I’ll be teaching three shellfish foraging and cooking classes this spring. Two classes will focus on steamer clams and oysters, while the third will be in pursuit of the legendary geoduck, world’s largest burrowing clam.

  • May 1: Shellfish Foraging & Cooking. Bring your rubber boots and bucket. We’ll learn how to dig for clams, shuck oysters, and cook our catch. Lunch will be littleneck clams steamed in white wine sauce at a nearby picnic area, with oysters on the half-shell as an appetizer.
  • May 18: Same as above.
  • June 15: Geoduck Dig. We’ll learn the finer points of wrestling a giant geoduck clam from its lair, then repair to a nearby picnic area to make a delicious ceviche. Class size limited.

More information is available through Bainbridge Island Metro Park &  and Recreation DistrictTo register, please call 206-842-2306 x115.

Geoduck Recipes

I came into a geoduck windfall the other day. A photo team was in town to shoot some clam digging action, and to supplement the razors and littlenecks we dug at the beach, they picked up a few photogenic ‘ducks from the market.

By the end of the weekend I was in proud possession of four live geoducks. What to do? If morels were popping (they’re not), I’d consider my Sichuan surf ‘n’ turf, or maybe a ceviche for a sunny Seattle picnic in March (good luck!). So I poked around online. Xinh Dwelley of Xinh’s Clam & Oyster House in Shelton, WA, makes a star turn on Dirty Jobs to demonstrate how to prepare Geoduck Sashimi, perhaps my favorite way to enjoy the well-endowed mollusk. Simply adorned with a dipping sauce of one part soy, one part rice vinegar, and a generous pinch of minced ginger, the clam’s sweet, slightly metallic taste shines through. Another good source for geoduck inspiration can be found here.

Even with various friends on the dole, four ‘ducks was just too much clam for three meals. We ended up freezing a couple. The necks of the other two got eaten as sashimi and the body meat was stir-fried for Geoduck with Snow Peas and Cashews. That night we also fried up some razor clams Pan-Asian style with a reduction of sake, aji-mirin, garlic, and ginger.

I sure don’t mind these clammy days of spring.

Sweet and Sour Geoduck


A recent New York Times article about East Coast clam culture got me wondering: Why no clam shacks around Puget Sound? Day-trip to a beach near New York City or Boston or anywhere along the Jersey Shore and you’re bound to stumble on a weathered, low-slung joint where the beer is cold and the clams are fresh. Near Seattle? Not so much. And please, don’t try to sell me on Ivar’s. The sad truth is we don’t have mom and pop clam shacks here, not in any discernible numbers. Population density, I heard someone say, but the Puget Sound region is now pushing five million people, certainly enough to warrant a few well established hole-in-the-wall shellfish shrines.

Another possibility is the clam fare itself. In addition to steamer clams (Mya arenaria, aka Eastern softshells), the Atlantic boasts another species not native to the Pacific, the quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria), and with it an entire category: clams on the half-shell, which is to say raw clams. Out here we mostly do oysters raw.

Still, even if the clams are different you would think the abundance of seafood in the Northwest would promote more than the occasional touristy fish and chip parlor. We have razor clams, littleneck clams, butter clams, horse clams, a variety of oysters, Dungeness crab, spot shrimp, and so on, not to mention the infamous geoduck. An enterprising soul should be able to open a seaside shanty with local beer and lots of seafood and turn it into a destination. You’d think…

I was thinking about this dearth of clam bar culture when I decided I’d bow to the Pacific Rim inclinations of my town and try to marry those leanings to a more down-home greasy spoon approach. I decided to deep fry the remainder of last week’s geoduck clam for Sweet and Sour ‘Duck.

Let me just say up front that I never order Sweet and Sour anything at Chinese restaurants. That gooey radioactive pink sauce is too weird even for me. But sweet and sour, when done the right way, is a time-honored amalgam of flavors in the Far East and I decided it would make a good match for deep-fried geoduck. I gave a nod to the Americanized version by adding onions and bell pepper. My one big mistake: I added the clams, already fried and crispy, back into the wok at the end to get them thoroughly coated with sauce, which turned them instantly soggy. Bad call! Best to pour on the sauce when you’re ready to serve.

1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
peanut oil
1/2 pound geoduck, sliced into thin strips

For Batter:
2 eggs
1/2 cup or more corn starch

For sauce:
3 tbsp white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp black Chinese vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
4 tsp corn starch
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tsp sesame oil

1. Prepare sauce ingredients. In a small bowl mix together sugar, salt, black vinegar, soy sauce, and corn starch. Set aside.

2. In wok over high heat, stir-fry onion and bell pepper with a tablespoon of peanut oil for 2 minutes or so, until starting to soften. Set aside and keep warm.

3. Add enough oil to wok to fry sliced clam in batches. Beat eggs and add to corn starch. Batter should be thick; add more corn starch if necessary. Batter and fry sliced clams until golden, then remove to paper towels. Set aside and keep warm.

4. After carefully disposing fry oil, quickly make sauce. Add 3 tablespoons peanut oil to wok over medium heat. Stir-fry garlic and ginger for 30 seconds. Add stock and bring to boil, then add the prepared sauce ingredients. Stir the sauce as it thickens, then add scallions and sesame oil.

5. Serve the vegetables over rice and topped with the fried clam. Pour sauce over.

Great geoducks, Batman!


A boy never forgets his first ‘duck. Or his first German TV documentary shoot…

Mare TV is in town, taking in the Seattle waterfront and its multi-splendored offerings of scenery, food, and fun. They were especially keen to sample what the old-timers politely call horseneck, so we saddled up the whole FOTL gang in our trusty Folksvagen and rode a ferry over to the far side of Puget Sound with a Hood Canal geoduck in mind.

These low-low summer tides are generally the most pleasant time to dig a three or four foot hole on the beach and wrestle a horseneck out of the mud. On Sunday we had a -3 foot low tide to get excited about but wouldn’t you know the first heat wave of the season had passed by and a new marine layer (wonky weatherman-speak for shitty weather) was moving in. (No doubt you’ve heard about Seattle’s two seasons: winter and August. Da-dum-dum. I’ll be here all week.) This presented some problems. Barometric pressure, I learned, can cause a tide to lose its edge. In this case, the water wasn’t draining off the flats the way one would normally expect for such a low tide. What’s more, a breezy chop was causing wave action that muddied the water and had the geoducks mostly hunkering down into their lairs. Even the geoduck-sniffing dogs were getting blanked.

We did find one good show, though, and that’s all that mattered. My pal John Adams, proprietor of the family-owned Skookum Point Shellfish Farm at the convergence of Little Skookum and Totten Inlets in Shelton, was on hand to offer his shellfish expertise. (If you ever have a chance to slurp down some of his beach-grown Skookum Point oysters, don’t hesitate—they’re some of the best I’ve ever eaten.)

This ‘duck turned out to be an obstinate one. Even after Riley touched the tip of his siphon he (or she) refused to back down, keeping its neck extended like a middle digit. After digging a couple feet down next to the burrow we could see why: the clam was way down there, deeper than most, and firmly ensconced in sediment that was more like wet cement than loose sand or mud. I suppose it felt secure in its holdings. Riley wasn’t deterred—he told his dad to keep digging!

The tide was on its way back in when we finally pulled the 4-pound clam from its burrow. Tradition dictated that Riley give his first ‘duck a big kiss. He didn’t flinch.

Later in camp, with a terrific view of the estuary, we picnicked with our ‘duck, enjoying a later afternoon ceviche and some good local beer. I’m sorry to say the Germans weren’t so impressed by Pike Stout—they’re pilsner drinkers, after all—but the geoduck ceviche got gobbled up in no time. This ceviche, using the neck exclusively, was similar to the one I wrote about here, with the exception that we substituted mango for papaya. I’m thinking I might cook the body meat in a sweet and sour sauce tonight.

Sichuan Fish-Fragrant Geoduck with Morels


The gloves are off here at FOTL headquarters and we’re pumping a fist for that old favorite, surf ‘n’ turf. Again. Yeah, I know we’ve already gone a few rounds with this theme before: You’ll remember my Kung Pao Geoduck with Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms and my X-Country Double Lobster Risotto. Now behold Sichuan Geoduck with Morels. And if anyone utters the “A” word—y’know, authenticity, or lack thereof—well, there might be a fight.

You hear that word a lot in online chat rooms about food and restaurants, where it’s usually thrown around by the guy who’s been to [insert exotic city here] thank you very much and knows a thing or three about how the real native people cook and eat. This character spots inauthenticity all around, no matter how artfully camouflaged. Can you imagine what the English language would be like if it was held captive by the authenticity police? The OED wouldn’t require a magnifying glass, that’s for sure.

So with that preamble out of the way, I give you my take on the Sichuan classic “Fish-Fragrance,” except mine doesn’t use pork or any other common meat—it uses the sliced body meat of the famous geoduck clam, on this occasion the three-pounder I helped dig up last week. And rather than fungi common to China such as cloud ear mushroms it uses the beautiful morels I found the other day on the eastern slope of Washington State’s Cascade Mountains, not to mention tender, thin spears of Yakima Valley asparagus.

You won’t be seeing this dish on any menus and as to its claim to Sichuan…um…authenticity, I’ll leave that to you dear reader, but to paraphrase the Seinfeld character without the boob job: “It was real—and it was spectacular!”

For my guide I used Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty and her recipe for Fish-Fragrant Pork Slivers, with some changes. Dunlop says the “so-called fish-fragrant flavor is one of Sichuan’s most famous culinary creations, and it epitomizes the Sichuanese love for audacious combinations of flavors.” As to where the fish fragrance comes from, since the dish uses nary a fish product in its marinade or sauce, she suggests that the name evokes a cultural memory of traditional Sichuanese fish cookery, so that when other ingredients are prepared in the same way they instantly recall the taste of fish.

1 geoduck body (minus siphon), thinly sliced
1/2 lb morels, quartered
1/2 lb asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 can bamboo shoots
peanut oil
2 tbsp chili bean paste
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp minced ginger
2 scallions (green part only), thinly sliced

Marinade

1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp cold water
1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine

Sauce

1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp black Chinese vinegar
3/4 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/8 tsp cornstarch
3 tbsp chicken stock (or water)

1. Marinate the geoduck. Place sliced clam in bowl and stir in one marinade ingredient after another, stirring in one direction to combine. Refrigerate.

2. Combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

3. Heat 1/4 cup peanut oil in seasoned wok over high flame. When oil begins to smoke, add morels and asparagus (minus tops), stir-frying 3-4 minutes.

4. Push morels and asparagus to one side and add sliced geoduck clam, stir-frying for another minute or two. Push aside with morels and asparagus and add chili paste to wok. Stir-fry paste briefly until red and fragrant, then add garlic, ginger, and asparagus tops and mix everything together. Stir-fry 30 seconds before adding bamboo shoots, then stir-fry another 30 seconds.

5 Stir the sauce in its bowl and pour into wok, stirring. Toss with scallions and serve over rice.

We drank a bottle of Eroica Riesling, which paired well with the multi-faceted flavors of the dish.

Just Dig It


One of the pleasures of this job is the chance to meet all kinds of folks who are working in the slow food movement. John Adams is one of them. He has a family-owned shellfish business in South Puget Sound and also manages one of Taylor Shellfish‘s larger operations on the Dosewallips tide flats of Hood Canal.

The Dose as it’s known (pronounced Doe-see) is one of those noteworthy Pacific Northwest estuaries that is ideally suited to supporting a wide array of wildlife and includes some of the most productive tidelands in the state. Snowmelt pours off the eastern slope of the Olympic Mountains to form the Dosewallips River, which in turn feeds into Hood Canal. The fresh inflow mixes with the salt across a broad expanse of glacial till to make an exceptional oyster-rearing habitat. Bald eagles patrol the shores and large numbers of harbor seals pop up to check you out in the waters off the appropriately named Seal Rock. Dungeness crabs, littleneck clams, and spot shrimp are just a few of the other toothsome varieties of shellfish that populate the estuary.

One handsome looking fella that draws foragers from far and wide is the geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck). This largest of the world’s burrowing clams inhabits the lower tidal zone in good numbers—though skill and determination are still required to bring it to hand.

I spent a morning the other day with Adams and food writer Laurel Miller tracking down the wily ‘duck. It’s fair to say Laurel and I were both in awe of our guide’s knowledge. For one thing, he can spot a geoduck show the way the rest of us see a ten dollar bill on the sidewalk. Unlike razor clam digging, when you might dig anything remotely resembling a show, deciding to dig for a geoduck is a commitment, and often you get only one shot at a clam before the tide turns. This makes the locating and verification of a show all the more crucial. John advised that it’s best to see the siphon (pictured at left) or at least feel it. Lots of holes in the sand might look like geoduck shows but if the clam can’t be verified, it isn’t worth digging for. Horse clams (aka gapers) have similar if less oblong shows; their siphon tips, however, are usually marked by scales or barnacles, which are noticeable to the touch.

Sometimes the conditions don’t cooperate and the clams, for whatever reason, withdraw their siphons. In such instances there’s not much a clammer can do to make a positive ID. More likely, though, is that the would-be geoduck digger doesn’t find a show because he isn’t looking in the right place. Geoducks are found at the lowest end of the tidal zone. Most of the clamming literature specifies a low tide of -2 feet or more. The or more is worth noting; digging on a -3 foot tide is a much different story from digging on -2 foot tide, and each increment below -2 gives the digger a better chance, so that a -2.6 tide is quite a bit better than -2.4, for example. Also, it’s important to scout the beach because geoducks are often found in concentrations in some areas and altogether absent in others. Hardcore clammers will flag geoduck shows for later.

John said that geoduck populations are generally in good shape but recreational digging tends to eliminate clams from the easiest reaches of a beach. Like mushroom hunting, a ‘duck hunter is often paid off in spades for getting away from the crowds and investigating the farthest-flung corners of a tidal flat.

John also taught me a new technique for digging ducks. Rather than centering our gun—the tube used as a bulkhead to dig a hole without the sand and mud continually collapsing into the hole—directly over the clam’s show, we positioned it to the side and dug adjacent to the geoduck’s lair. Like a bank robber that tunnels underneath and into a vault from a safe location, this strategy allowed us to dig confidently without the fear of accidentally decapitating our quarry. Once we were deep enough, we dug laterally and found the clam’s neck, then worked our way down to the shell and carefully extracted it from the burrow three feet beneath the substrate.

Or I should say Laurel extracted it. The dig was her idea and so while each of us put in some elbow grease to excavate the hole, Laurel had the honor of the final capture. I mostly snapped photos and stayed relatively dry, unlike my last geoduck dig.

Geoduck Sashimi

Geoduck Sashimi should be a revelation for most clam lovers. The rich clam flavor is pure and clean, without any distractions, and balanced by a slight sweetness. The texture is al dente in the best way. A light soy-based sauce used sparingly can accentuate the taste.

1. Clean the clam. Immerse geoduck in pot of boiling water for 8 seconds. Remove from pot, run under cold tap, and then peel off leathery siphon sheath. Cut adductor muscles (where clam attaches on inside of shell) on either side and remove body from shell. Slice off siphon at base of body and nip off the tough, dark tip of siphon, about a 1/2-inch. Discard the gut ball and gills and reserve rest of body for saute or stir-fry. The siphon is best for sashimi or ceviche.

2. Slice siphon lengthwise not quite in half and spread open, butterfly style. Clean under tap, making sure to wash off any sand or grit. The siphon is not ready to be thinly sliced for sashimi.

3. Make a sauce either for dipping or to pour over sashimi. For instance, 1 tbsp soy sauce with 1 tbsp rice vinegar and 1 tsp minced ginger. Garnish with wasabi and pickled ginger.

Wild Surf ‘n’ Turf


After making ceviche with the neck meat of my hard-won geoduck, I was left with a big hunk o’ body meat. What to do? Stir-fry seemed like the right approach. Earlier this year I made Kung Pao Chicken for the first time and discovered that Chinese cookery was not magic.

Here’s a little secret: Anyone can cook Kung Pao at home, no problem. Just stock up on a few key items at your local Asian market, such as Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing), rice vinegar, and dried red chilies. Other ingredients—soy sauce, sesame oil, corn starch—you probably have already. Though not traditional, I added wild chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms (Laetiporus conifericola), which are all over the Cascade forests right now, and snap peas.

Kung Pao Geoduck with Wild Mushrooms

1/2 lb geoduck, thinly sliced
1/2 lb chicken of the woods (or shitake)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing)
2 tbsp corn starch dissolved in 2 tbsp water
1 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp brown sugar
2 handfuls cocktail peanuts
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb ginger, cut into slivers
8-10 dried chile peppers, halved and de-seeded
2 handfuls snap peas
2-3 green onions, chopped
1 tbsp peanut oil

1. For the marinade, combine into a bowl 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine, and 1 tbsp of the corn starch/water mixture. Immerse sliced geoduck and refrigerate 30 minutes.

2. For the sauce, combine into small bowl 1 tbsp soy sauce (note: use dark soy, if you have it), 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine, 1 tsp rice vinegar, 2 tsp brown sugar, and 1 tbsp corn starch/water mixture. Stir in garlic, ginger, peanuts, and half the green onion.

3. Heat peanut oil in wok or large skillet on high until nearly smoking. Stir in dried chilies and cook until fragrant, less than a minute. Add mushrooms and cook another minute or two. Add geoduck with marinade and cook a couple minutes, stirring. Add snap peas and sauce and cook another couple minutes, all the while stirring.

4. Ladle over rice and garnish with remaining green onion. Now say a prayer for your local take-out joint, which might have less of your business in the future.

Serves 2.