razor sharp: clam recipe ideas from a disgruntled shopper

PartyCart razor clam ceviche with chermoula

I went into a local fish store recently and saw a big heap of razor clams (silqua patula).  They’re the long, skinny clams that when pounded flat yield a piece of meat about as big as a nice T-bone.  I had had them recently on the coast in Yachats, pan-fried, and I wondered what other popular ways they might be served. I was thinking about a delicious abalone rice I had had in Japan, where a small abalone we procured on a boat trip in the Sea of Japan was chopped up and added to the rice water to make the most delicious, subtle rice.

So I asked the fishmonger who was helping me if he knew any other ways to cook razor clams other than pan-fried.  He said he had never had them and didn’t know, so he’d get someone else.  Fair enough.

The second person told me that they must be pan-fried. That was the only way to eat them.

Really? I asked.

Yes, he said, dismissively. The only way.

I replied, so nobody EVER eats them any other way?

Nope, he said.  Cover them in breadcrumbs and panfry them.  You just want to cook them quickly.  I WOULD NOT chop them up and put them in a chowder.  They’re too nice for that.  You’d waste them.

Naturally, I said, trying not to be annoyed.  But what about without breadcrumbs?  Maybe quickly seared and tossed with pasta, or a light sauté with butter and wine?  You’ve never heard of any other recipe from anyone else?

You ought to be on Top Chef! exclaimed the first fishmonger.

Nope, he said. There’s only one way.

Do you think anyone else here might know another way? I said.

Nope, he said.

Clearly not.

I really thought about whether I wanted to name the fish store, but I usually like them very much, so I’ll leave it to word of mouth.  If you know someone who works at a fish store that sells razor clams in Eugene, direct them to my blog, if you please.  At this place, the service can be taciturn at times, and they rarely have time to chat — but they let you know it.  This time, I was asked if I needed help the second I stepped up to the counter and then again about two minutes later, then had my order totaled up and presented to me as finished twice before I was finished choosing.  I’m not the speediest customer in the world, but I wasn’t exactly dawdling, either. But I understand how intense it gets behind the counter.  I don’t understand, though, when businesses don’t educate their staff well about the items they’re selling.  It means a lost sale.  Period.

Soooo…for those who are interested, since razor clam season is still open in Washington and Oregon, and the clams should still be around for a week or so, here are some other ways to prepare razor clams.

1) Razor clam ceviche with chermoula, an herb sauce with garlic and cumin from Morocco on a homemade pita chip.  I had the one pictured above at PartyCart.  There might still be some if you hurry down there.  There’s another recipe for razor clam ceviche with bright chili and red onions, plus the nice briny flavor of samphire (aka sea beans) here.

2) Two ideas posted in this thread of people searching like me.  The first is an impossibly long, slow braise, which makes octopus and squid tender, so I guess it works with big clams, too: “[Portland’s Wildwood Restaurant Chef Dustin] Clark sears pounded, tenderized [razor] clams in olive oil, then simmers them in an intense sauce of preserved tomato, fennel, shallot, white wine and green garlic for a long time in a slow oven. ‘I like to reduce the sauce way down because the clams will exude juice as they cook,’ Clark says. ‘The clams need to cook for an hour or two to have a chance to relax and become really, really tender.'”

3) And the second idea is rather brilliant, a PNW gravlax-style cured razor clam with conifer tips instead of fennel fronds:  “Equal parts sea salt and sugar, pinch or fresh pepper, pine needles or cedar tips. Chop the needles or cedar mix in with the rest. Coat liberally onto clams, wrap in cling film, place in flat container with weight on top of it. Wait 2 days then brush off and slice and eat on some crisp bread, or better yet, very fast, like 10 seconds on each side, sear, slice into inch long strips and place on light salad.”

4)  Thai razor clam salad with pickled vegetables, crushed peanuts, fresh green mint, Thai basil, Vietnamese sawtooth cilantro (which they’re selling at Grey’s right now as a start), and fried garlic and shallot.   The recipe is complex, but I think that you could improvise and still have a wonderful offering.  I don’t know what vegetables they use, probably a pickled mustard green.  But you could quick pickle carrots or cucumber or cabbage with salt for a couple of hours on the counter (toss with a handful of salt, let sit, then rinse off the pickles and squeeze all the water out of them).  Or maybe use chopped pickled chard stems?  Not remotely authentic but DELICIOUS.  Or heck, just use chopped fresh carrots and cabbage.

I’ve also seen razor clams grilled in their shells and dressed with a vinaigrette.  Or butter.  Can’t go wrong there.  Any other ideas?  I’m open.

digging your own gravlax

I’ve been trying lately to include food that is high in protein in my breakfasts.  I’m always trying to have delicious noshes in my refrigerator for cocktail hour.  It was inevitable that I should run smack into gravlax.

Gravlax is the most delicious, silken, salt-cured salmon served in Scandinavia.  It’s a less salty, less aggressive, dill-tinged, slightly sweet lox, which is cold-smoked, and much more subtle than the smoked salmon you find at your local bagelry.  And it’s wonderful with PNW salmon. Definitely don’t use Atlantic salmon, which is always farmed, and tastes muddy and yucky once you’ve dipped your toes in the sweet Pacific.  Save your Chinook/King salmon for the grill; gravlax is better with the stronger flavors and leaner meat of Sockeye or Coho.

Plan ahead — you’ll need to freeze fresh salmon for 3-7 days to ensure any parasites are killed, or use commercially frozen salmon.  All the recipes I’ve seen have called for skin-on fillets, but my fishmonger suggested she skin it, so I went with that.  It was just fine, and more convenient.  Look for a fillet that’s not too thick at the center, rather more even in thickness for most of the fillet.

For us, 1-1/2 lbs. is plenty, so really think about how much you’ll be eating.  It’s better to make less more frequently, since storage alters the flavor and it’s not something that keeps for a very long time.  You can freeze it, which dries it out, or keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

My recipe is based on several sources, including the base recipe and comments in this long, comprehensive post from Cooking for Engineers.  It’s very much worth the read for debates about how long to freeze and store, whether or not to weigh down the fillet, add-ons, etymology, and parasitology.

Mark Bittman published a collection of recipes that alter the ratio of salt to sugar and feature different spices, including citrus and a Moroccan-inspired rub.  He prefers a 2:1 ratio of sugar:salt, but I like 1:1 with my limited desire for sugar.  Next time, I’ll surely opt for a traditional splash of Aquavit (or most likely Herbsaint, which I have on hand right now) with the cure.

Simple Gravlax with Dill

Serves 4-6, or more.

  • 1.5 lb. fillet of wild Pacific salmon, a less fatty variety like Sockeye or Coho, skinned
  • 3 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped dill or fennel fronds

Prepare the salmon by feeling the fillet for small pin bones; remove with tweezers.  Freeze salmon for at least 3 days to kill any parasites.

Combine salt and sugar in a small bowl.  Chop dill.

On a piece of plastic wrap or aluminum foil that is large enough to wrap the salmon, sprinkle half of the salt/sugar mixture.  Place the salmon, dark-fleshed (skin) side down, atop the mixture. Add the rest of the salt and sugar to cover the fish, and sprinkle the dill on top evenly.

Wrap the fish well in the plastic or foil, and then wrap it again in another piece of foil.  Place fish in gallon-sized Ziploc bag to reduce smells, and lay out the package on a baking sheet that fits the fillet without bending it.

Refrigerate for 48 hours, flipping over the package every 12 hours or so.

Unwrap the salmon and cut a piece off to make sure it is cured through the middle (it should be an even color).  Taste some. If it is too strong for your preparation, rinse off the cure, but you may opt to leave it on. Dry, then slice as thinly as possible on the bias.  Serve with brown bread and cream cheese, or in scrambled eggs with crème fraîche and scallions, as I did above.  Breakfast of champions.