night of the living clams

As a Midwestern girl, my notion of “clamming” was fuzzy at best. I imagined a pleasant afternoon wearing “clam-diggers” (what they called cropped pants back in the day), gently digging down maybe a few inches for closed clam shells just waiting to be harvested. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? I just went on my first razor clamming expedition on Washington’s Copalis Beach, and the reality is quite different. Click the link for the excitement (seriously) and grossness (also seriously) of razor clamming. –Mary T.


First, you need gear. Hardy souls still clam with nothing but a shovel and a bucket, but most of the clammers, ourselves included, use a clam gun (also known as a clam tube). It’s simply a long tube that you plunge into the sand, with a small hole you then cover with your finger to create suction to pull up the clam. Clammers also use wooden sticks to tap the sand, getting the clams to “show” themselves.

Because you can’t clam until it’s low tide, which this past weekend meant around 4:30 p.m. — right about dark here in the winter — add headlamps, lanterns, and flashlights to the mix. And because low tide doesn’t mean no tide, don’t forget wellies or hip waders, wicking clothing, and waterproof jackets.


Clamming isn’t easy. I quickly learned that razor clams are anything but immobile. It takes serious effort to pull up the clam gun — much more of a workout than I was expecting. If you’re lucky and the clam comes up with the tube, you have to hurry to grab it; these clams have a long foot that digs them back down into the sand fast. Sometimes you can dig your hand into the hole and grab the clam before it escapes (I was surprisingly non-squeamish about this).


It was weirdly exciting, with whoops of congratulations along the beach when someone snagged a clam. We were limited to 15 clams per person, and it took two or three hours to get that many.


On the way back to town, my husband and I were aglow with the happiness of living in the Pacific Northwest — what a wonderful experience it was to clam! Yeah…that’s because we hadn’t cleaned them yet.

(If you’re squeamish or a vegetarian, you may want to stop reading now.)


Cleaning razor clams is gross. Our clamming host told us that the rule is “You catch it, you clean it.” The first part is simple enough: he used a colander to dunk clams into boiling water, then right into cold water. This separates the shell without making the meat tough. I was grateful for that, because cutting the clam out of the shell seemed even less appealing. Still, a bowlful of freshly shelled clams was very unpleasant to look at. Especially since some of them were still moving. Our host assured us it was just reflex twitching; those clams were dead. We chose to believe him.


Above: proof I touched the clams

Now for the really un-fun part. You can’t eat razor clams whole, so that means thorough cleaning. First you use scissors to cut off the end of what the host’s wife — who does not catch, clean, nor eat clams, but was happy to keep us company — called “the snout.” Ugh. Then you clip down the snout, spread open the clam, and cut around the stomach and gills, discarding them. The less said about that, the better. Finally, you cut the foot off the body. The foot is the meatiest part, so we separated ours from the bodies for use in different recipes. And now for the very worst part…

Even though at this point you most definitely have a dead clam, the foot often continues to move about. If you unsuspectingly grab the foot, you can be in for a nasty shock as it contracts in your fingers. I can’t really explain how gross that is. We psyched ourselves up for this task by poking at them a bit, getting used to the feeling. But I’d be lying if I said that cutting them off wasn’t accomplished without some amount of shrieking and dropping the clam on the table. And I’m not just talking about the ladies.

Well, at least now we have 30 cleaned clams in our freezer just waiting for us to make fritters and chowder. I’ll share the results when we do so. Hey, I’ve earned it.


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