Saturday, October 11, 2008

Razor Clams

Recently, a customer asked me to make razor clams for him and his girlfriend. I really don't mind it when customers call or email and ask me to cook a certain food product for them. It's actually one fewer decision that I have to make during the course of the day and because the menu changes daily, I'm always looking for different foods to feature.

I jumped at the opportunity to do razor clams for him, mainly because I'm always looking for an excuse to work with new foods. I've worked with lots of other clams in my life, so I assumed that working with razors is similar. And it is, with the exception of having to clean them, which our local clams don't require.

I've seen razor clam shells littered all over the beaches here in Virginia and have seen baskets of them at bait shops, but we don't have any fishery for them as far as I know. On the other hand, we're known for our quahogs (pronounced "co-hog" and mainly called by their size names: littlenecks, cherrystones, and chowders), which I have harvested most successfully on Assateague Island. I just wade out onto the mud flats at low tide and feel them with my feet, then pull them out of the mud. Free feast!

Razor clams are a lot harder to harvest. They're apparently fairly mobile, able to move vertically in the sand very quickly to escape prying shovels and the bills of the oystercatchers that prey on them.

A quick email to a supplier and I had a box of Common Razor Clams or Atlantic Jackknife Clams, Ensis directus, delivered by FedEx the next morning. They're very long and resemble a straight razor as you see in the photo above, while the Pacific Razor Clam, Siliqua patula, of the Pacific Northwest is an elongated oval.

Preparation is straight forward. After washing them well to remove the sand, pour boiling water over them for a few seconds (if you use a colander, the water will drain away). At this point, the clams pull right out of the shells with no fight. With a pair of scissors, snip off the tough ends of the siphon and the digger; your fingers will tell you where to cut. Then pull the siphon off the body of the clam and open it with the scissors if necessary to clean it. I didn't find it necessary. Open the body of the clam and the digger and remove all the brown bits and you're done.

As for cooking clams, remember that they are excellent in raw preparations such as crudo and sushi, so you don't have to cook them at all. If you're going to cook them, think squid: less cooking is more. Merely warming them for a few seconds is all that is necessary. Here are my razor clams in a preparation that I call Razor Clams Nancy's Style, with diced pancetta and shiitakes cooked in clarified butter, with white wine, garlic, and lots of fresh parsley, finished with a swirl of whole sweet butter.

And the eternal question: "But, are they worth the trouble and expense?" Worthiness depends on your point of view, your like for shellfish, your wallet, and your tolerance for labor. They are head and shoulders the best tasting clams that I have ever had. Worthy, worthy, worthy.

1 comment:

  1. Hello my name is Juan Fernandez Tajes, phD and I really interested in Ensis directus from NOrth America, could you tell me where i can purchase them? Many thanks in advance

    My email is