Things to do with a clam

Posted: Friday, April 03, 2009

April may not be the best month for clamming, but it beats the six months preceding it. This year, it contains two sets of minus tides, Tuesday through April 13, and April 23 to 29, all of which occur in morning hours.

A good way to learn about clamming is to go with someone pleasant who knows what they're doing. If you have a seaworthy boat or a four-wheel-drive pickup, I'm available.

The limit for razor clams is the first 60 clams dug per day, and the possession limit is 120. Your limit for cleaning razor clams is likely far less than the possession limit.

Whatever you do, don't overcook clams. Too much heat makes them tough as leather and more than a little resentful.

When razor clams are fresh is the best time to have them fried. The tenderest part of a razor is its foot. I cut the feet into 1/4-inch-wide strips, shake them in a bag with a little rice flour and Cajun spices, dip them in an egg wash, roll them in Panko, and fry them in peanut oil in a wok until they're golden brown. For a dipping sauce, I add a little horseradish and fresh lemon juice to some Heinz chile sauce.

The razor clams and butter clams I don't eat fresh, I freeze. I put about 2 cups of cleaned clams in a 1-quart freezer bag, add a little water, squeeze out the air, seal and freeze. Butter and littleneck clams can be frozen in the shell, but I don't pretend to know anything about that.

Frozen razor clams are mainly my chowder clams, but I've been known to mince a couple and add them to fettuccine Alfredo. For chowder, I prefer razors, which have more flavor than our local hardshell clams. I like the "New England" variant of chowder, without tomatoes. Instead of bacon bits, I use bits of alder-smoked sockeye salmon, smoked until it's bacon-bit chewy.

I cook littleneck clams by simply putting them in a covered pot on high heat, without water. These "steamers" contain enough water to cook in their own juices. When the shells open, they're done. Discard any that don't open, and serve the survivors immediately with melted butter. To do anything more to these tender little morsels is illegal, or should be.

My favorite method for cooking butter clams is on the half-shell. With a sturdy butcher knife, cut through the meat and the shell's hinge. You should end up with half of the meat in each half of the shell. Under running water, rinse off any sand, bits of shell and the stomach contents. Cook these clams either "shell up" on the barbecue, or "shell down" in a frying pan. While the clams are on the grill, you can add melted butter, hot sauce or whatever. When pan-frying butter clams on the half-shell, I usually dredge them in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper, and fry them in butter. Hey, why do they call them butter clams if they're not meant to be cooked in butter?

When you cook clams on the half-shell, resign yourself to cooking while everyone else eats. Clams cool quickly, and should be eaten fresh from the grill or pan. The advantage of this is that the cook has first dibs.

I just drooled on my keyboard. See you on the clamming grounds.

Les Palmer dug and ate a lot of clams while growing up on Puget Sound. He now lives in Sterling.

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