BURIED AN ARM’S LENGTH under the sand along Washington’s coast, there are shellfish you need to try: razor clams. They taste buttery and sweet, but less briny than regular round clams. Lightly breaded, their soft, tender flesh fries to a golden, curly crisp, like bacon with “meroir,” and the “digger” meat—the fattest, most flavorful part—slides through the mouth like a perfectly-cooked scallop, with no clammy viscera to chew down.
There is a catch, of course. Due to commercial shell-fishing restrictions, most fishmongers don’t carry razor clams, which means it’s your turn to dig. And dig you should: a few weekends each spring, fall, and winter, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife opens the state’s southwestern shores to recreational clam diggers. Since digging dates always coincide with the lowest tides, you’ll tromp out onto the beach under the glow of a full moon, armed with a clamming shovel, a bucket, the right shell-fishing license, waders, and plenty of warm clothing. If it’s dark, an electric lantern won’t hurt, since you’ll be searching for tiny dimples in the sand (called “shows”) to locate your dinner. When you’re on your hands and knees, one arm bicep-deep in a cold, sandy hole, you might wonder how you got there, but the first time your fingers grasp a palm-sized mahogany- and amber-striped shell, you’ll be hooked on the hunt.
In the kitchen, razor clams can be surprisingly delicate, says chef Kevin Davis of Steelhead Diner. “Clams from our area have a lower fat content than clams from farther north, which means they’re extremely sensitive to overcooking,” he says. Davis sautés his clams quickly in butter with fresh mushrooms, and chops up the rest for a thick, hearty chowder.
Find out which beaches to visit for this year’s razor clam season, how to dig and clean clams, and where to get a permit at wdfw.wa.gov.