Digging up the tastiest shellfish in the world (plus a recipe for razor clam pasta with white wine sauce)

The Pacific Razor Clam is one of the most sought-after shellfish in the world, owing its popularity to its excellent flavor and versatility in the kitchen. While razor clams can often be purchased at markets, the most enjoyable and rewarding approach is to dig them for yourself.

Pacific Razor Clams can be found along the west coast of the United States, with a range that stretches from Alaska to California. The clams live in the intertidal zone of sandy beaches, which can be reached at exceptionally low tides throughout the year. The harvest of these clams is regulated by state agencies, so be sure to do your research and know the legal season, regulations, and required licensing.

Harvesting the clams

If you've never tried razor clamming before, you simply must experience it at least once - especially in the fall or winter, when the lowest tides occur at night. There is something truly bizarre yet truly wonderful about making your way along the beach by lantern light, seeing hundreds of other lanterns along the dark beach twinkling like distant stars. 

Typical tools of the trade include a good pair of rubber boots (or hip waders), a bucket or mesh bag for holding your catch, and your choice of digging instruments. Given the climate of the Pacific coast, it's also best to come armed with plenty of foul weather gear. Your digging tool can be either a shovel or a specialized clam tube, which is a metal or PVC tube that you shove into the sand, then lift while plugging an air hole in order to bring up a core of sand (and hopefully the clam, too!).

The first order of business is to find the "show", or a hole in the sand that formed when the clam retracted its neck. Sometimes these may only be small depressions in the sand instead of a proper hole. Once you locate the clam, dig very carefully (but quickly!) in order to find the clam. They can dig quite fast, so don't waste time and allow them to "run" away from you.

In Washington, you have to keep the first 15 clams that you dig - regardless of their size or condition. For this reason, it's best to learn how to avoid mutilating the clam with an ill-placed shovel or tube. While a smashed clam is still perfectly edible, it is difficult to clean and may result in some unwanted shell mixed in with the meat.

Cleaning your catch

Pacific Razor ClamCredit: Jennifer WapenskiOnce you have your limit of clams, place them in a bucket of cold, fresh water. This will allow them to start cleaning some of the sand from their systems, which reduces the amount of work that you'll have to do later on. After a few hours (or the next morning), you can begin to clean the clams.

Good cleaning technique ensures that you get rid of all of the sand and not-so-tasty parts while maximizing the yield of delicious meat. Find a friend to help you with this process - an assembly line is often the most efficient way to work through a day's worth of clams.

First, get a large pot of water boiling on the stove. Using tongs, dip the clam into the water for a few seconds, until the shell pops open. Remove the shell and immediately place the clam in an ice bath. You don't want to allow the clam to cook at this point.

Using scissors or a knife, cut off the black tip of the clams neck. You can discard this, or retain the neck tips for use as fishing bait. Next, slit up along the length of the neck and rinse out any sand. Cut the stomach and gills off and discard. Finally, slit open the digging foot and clean out anything that doesn't look as though you'd want to eat it (sand, algae, and whatever else the clam has been eating).

Rinse everything thoroughly and pack away in freezer bags for storage. A weekend of harvesting razor clams can yield a good stock of meat in the freezer for weeks to come!

One way to prepare razor clams is to fry them in a pan with a panko breading, but the ensuing mess is a real pain to clean up. The clams also work nicely in pasta dishes, especially with a light sauce and plenty of garlic. Here is a recipe for a white wine pasta dish that works great with fresh razor clams.

Razor Clam Pasta with White Wine Sauce

Adapted from Edible Seattle

4 servings, about 30 minutes to prepare 

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 pound pasta of your choice
1 1/2 cups razor clam meat, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Parmesan cheese

Start a large pot of water on high heat for the pasta.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and oil together over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about five minutes.

Reduce the heat, add the white wine, and simmer for another ten minutes.

As soon as the pot of water starts boiling, add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions.

Add the clams and parsley to the reduced sauce. Simmer for two to three minutes to heat the clams through. Be careful not to over-cook the clams, as they will start to become rubbery very quickly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss the sauce and clams with the cooked pasta and serve immediately, topping with shredded Parmesan cheese.



Recommended gear for clamming

Danielson Clam Gun
Amazon Price: $33.84 $29.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 3, 2018)
4012968 Danielson Clam Shovel-9in Blade with 41in Handle
Amazon Price: $38.99 $29.48 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 3, 2018)
Willapa Marine Nylon Clam Bag
Amazon Price: $13.65 $11.67 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 3, 2018)