Green City Garden Girl: The Art of Razor Clam Digging

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KyLynn Hull is a freelance writer who dabbles in many things including writing, urban farming, cooking and raising backyard chickens. She writes regularly for garden and food blog, Green City Garden Girl – Bound by the Seasons.

There are only a few times a year when you can take advantage of clam digging on the beaches of Washington State. This was a pastime growing up and something I’ve recently revisited and started enjoying again with my parents and son.

My dad is a veteran digger. Look at that form! Photo By KyLynn Hull.

Let it be said, fresh clams are remarkable and the opportunity to dig your own is equally important. I admit, the tides aren’t always convenient and it can be time consuming, but, I believe, well worth it. My mom’s brother, on the other hand, loves to dig clams, but he now opts to have Central Market call him when they have a supply. His north of Seattle location isn’t quite convenient enough for him to make the 3+ hour drive, and I totally get that.

For me, I like to get my hands dirty. I like to feel the tug-of-war that gets started between me and the clam. I like the physical aggressiveness that comes from digging your own. When you first see that bubble in the sand and immediately fight for what’s yours. You mightily dig your shovel in wanting to win the prize when it emerges from below. Those suckers can dig fast and, unfortunately, at times, faster than you. This cat-and-mouse kind of game gets you coming back for more. Well, that and the fact they are delicious to eat.

Here I am. Yes, that’s me, polka dot boots and all. (Using a clam gun.) Photo By KyLynn Hull.

Are you wondering if I am even being serious? But, yes, I’m here to tell you–it is awesome. I love digging clams and especially more pleasing, I enjoy spending that time with my mom and dad. The last time we went was a mid-afternoon dig, so we all piled in the car–early, as my dad likes it–to head down from their Mason County home. The drive is relaxing as we roll by places that bring me back to my childhood. They tell me stories along the way and we enjoy the scenery of the Evergreens and the old, small towns. When we got to the beach at Ocean City, the sun was peaking out through the dark, coastal clouds. It wasn’t raining or too cold, and the air smelled fresh. It was simply beautiful. And after we dug, we all stood there for awhile looking on in amazement, feeling refreshed from the physical exertion.

Once you return home with your clams, there are important tips when cleaning clams. Below is a step-by-step photo guide on how to do this without affecting the clams you dig.

Boil hot water to pour over your clams to remove the slime and help them separate from their shell. Place all your clams in the sink to prepare for boiling water. Pour boiling water over clams. Make sure all clams are submerged. It’s important to rinse quickly with cold water so the hot water doesn’t start cooking the clams.

Peel the shells away from the clams and rinse the slime off.

Use a paring knife to cut the muscle attaching the shell and clam.

Grab a pair of scissors. They will be your best friend for awhile. Cut off top of neck where it is dark brown in color compared to the flesh color of the rest of the clam. From the opposite side of the neck, cut along the ridges to open up the clam. (Note: The digger of the clam is opposite the neck. It’s pointing out toward the sink in photo.)

Keep cutting up through the neck. There are two holes at the top of the neck. You should cut up through both.

Once opened up, rinse with cold water to remove sand. The brownish color in the center of the clam is the lungs. Those will be removed next. You can, essentially, pull away the brown lungs from the clam. Some scraping and cutting needed.

Ladies and Gentlemen: this is the digger. This is the pesky thing that keeps some clams from coming home with you. You’ll need to cut up throughout the digger to open it up. There will be a hole to guide you up through the digger. Keep cutting until you  reach the end of the little crooked point.

This is where all the fatty meat lies and is the best part of the clam to eat. It has been said there are certain times of the year when this part of the clam is meatier and fattier. The spring season renders less fat than in fall and winter seasons.

Now it’s time to open up the fleshy digger and clean it out. (It looks pretty scary with all its veins and guts.) Scrape off the brownish cuts. The end result should be all flesh colored with no brown spots. Look at her! (or him). What a beauty.

Elias helps prepare the clams. Photo By KyLynn Hull.

And now the fun part! Breading and cooking them. Our favorite is nothing more than flour, salt and pepper. (Maybe a little cayenne, too). Simply blot clams dry with a paper towel before rolling in flour.

Important Tips Before Heading Out Digging:

• Figure out the tides and season. If you live in Washington, you can find out everything you need to know by visiting the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Razor Clams page, or you can buy a tide table book. (I have no idea how to read those, but that’s what I have my dad for).

• Buy a license. It cost me around $11 for an entire season’s pass. (Typically, the season runs a few days a month from September to March.)

• Bring something to dig with. I use a standard razor clam gun, but the veterans use the regular clam digging shovels. (See above photos).

• Bring warm clothes and hip boots if you want to get deep. (Stylish polka dot boots work, too).

• Dig your limit (15 per person). Remember this because there are those funny little Fish and Wildlife people sitting in cars, watching with binoculars.

• Bring a six-pack of beer for after the dig. (NOT arguably the best part of clam digging).

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