Friday, March 5, 2010

Go for the Gold

This past Sunday I was faced with a tough choice: catch the last two periods of the gold-medal hockey game between the U.S. and Canada or go for the golden razor clam. I went for the gold. It's almost always better to be a participant rather than an observer, don't you think? Unless we're talking about alligator rasslin' or something.

So far this season I had been shut out of razor clam openings because of scheduling conflicts. My luck was about to change. It was a perfect afternoon for a dig: partly cloudy with sunbursts, not too windy, low tide at 6:30 pm. Really, it doesn't get much better than that, not on the storm-swept shores of the North Pacific. By 4:30 the beaches started crowding with people, though not excessively so. It was still mild outside and some of the bolder clammers wore nothing but shorts and t-shirts. My friends Chris and Lori, who star in the morel hunting chapter of the book, set off down the beach with faithful hound Buddha.

Meanwhile surf clamming specialists collected first dibs as the rest of us waited for the tide to drop. This is something I want to learn, mainly because it looks so ballsy to be out there in the foam and spray digging beneath a foot or two of water. How do they even locate the shows? I don't know but there must be some secret shared by the confederacy of surf diggers. Unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of any of them. Maybe they don't even show up on film.

The rest of us used our clam guns (shovels and tubes) to score a few early clams while waiting for the drop. Then, all of sudden, the out-going tide exposed the honey holes. Shows appeared all around. Crazed digging and lots of "Over there!" and "Right behind you!" exhortations. Limits filled in minutes. It was a good crop, with many decent-sized razors and easy digging. Virtually everyone had a limit before the turn.

As I walked back to the van a line of cars and trucks sped past on the hardpan beach, people hanging out of open windows yelling and hollering and generally whooping it up. "Waaaahhhhoooooo!" a long-haired freak zinged me as his buddies hauled him away from the beach in an old Dodge wagon gone to rust. They probably had a hundred razors between them. I flashed him the thumbs-up as he rolled off down the flats. It bears repeating that human beings enjoy getting their own food from places other than the supermarket. Another gift from the sea had been gladly accepted and it was time to party.

Tempura Razor Clam Sushi

If you've spent any quality time in Jamaica, then rolling sushi ought to be second nature. If not, just practice. A bamboo roller makes it easier. How you cook the rice is key. Make sure you use sushi-grade short-grain rice and rinse it in a few changes of water before cooking. The rice should spread smoothly on a sheet of nori without becoming too gloppy.

While the rice is cooking, prep and arrange your ingredients. I've used all kinds of fish, fresh vegetables, Asian-style pickled vegetables, and other flavors and textures. The following are examples, but experiment on your own. Tempura is fun because it adds a little crunch to your sushi and a hit of that fatty goodness that only fried foods can give.

4-5 razor clams, cut in half lengthwise
tempura batter (here's a recipe)
2 cups sushi rice
seasoned rice vinegar
1 package nori
Dungeness crabmeat or other fish or shellfish*
1 small jar tobiko
1/2 cucumber
1 avocado
pickled ginger
soy sauce

* Note: As you can see from the photos, I used fake crab, known as surimi, but subsequent review of the Sustainable Sushi web site reveals that surimi is no longer considered a viable option for the sushi lover. On the other hand, Seafood Watch's Sustainable Fish Guide application for the iPhone calls it a "good alternative." This is confusing and should be sorted out.

1. Make rice. When cooked, mix in a splash of seasoned rice vinegar to taste.
2. Peel and slice cucumber into matchsticks. Cut avocado into thin slices.
3. Batter razor clams and fry in oil. Remove to paper towels.
4. Spread rice evenly on nori wrapper. Repeatedly wetting fingers in a dipping bowl makes this easier.
5. Arrange ingredients and roll. For an inside-out roll, flip rice-covered wrapper onto wax paper, rice side down.


Turns out my Canadian friends got to revel in their medal victory. But I had my own gold. We grabbed a few pints at the Porthole Pub in Ocean Shores and then made tracks back to Seattle, Winterland '73 cranked in Cora's hippie van. After enjoying a wonderful dinner recently at West Seattle's Mashiko, one of only a handful of certified sustainable sushi restaurants in the world, I had ideas for my catch: Pacific Gold, a fine rolling sushi if there ever was one.


Dawn (KitchenTravels) said...

Great story, great writing, great-looking rolls. Love it! Posts like this make it reeeeealy difficult to concentrate on "work." ;)

Mary said...

Well, I guess the next best thing since I can't go get my own, is to buy some from my local market that has them fresh. Cheaper than driving myself to the coast and buying all the gear! Now if only I could train myself to do this with mushrooms, look how much money I'd save! ; )

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I think you made the right choice - as you say better to be a participant than an observer. Even though you missed an exciting game, you can always catch the highlights on the internet. Besides, unlike the US team, you did come home with the gold!

Tiffany S. said...

Somehow we never got the memo from Fish and Wildlife that the weekend was open. Otherwise we would have risked tsunami waves ourselves! Clam fail on our part!

Perry said...

This post blew my mind. There is absolutely NOTHING to compare this to in the prairie mid-west, not that I can think of anyway.

Looking at your harvest photos is like peeking into some weird science fiction world.

My soul suddenly feels empty, longing... I had no idea. Well done, I think you just sold another book.

Bpaul said...

Holy hell that looks fantastic, from the dig to the dinner. Great post.

Langdon Cook said...

Dawn - Sometimes a blog post comes together as easily as the events it portrays. After missing so many razor clam openings this year, this day felt more like a win than any of us could have predicted.

Mary - Have you been razor digging before? A similar thrill to mushroom hunting. You'd love it.

Linda - True, though by all reports the game was a doozy. I'm supping with some Canadian friends tonight and I'm sure they'll have a few things to say about it. Plus they'll put me under the table per usual for my pals to the north.

Tiffany - Bummer! I check the WDFW web site regularly for such memos. P.S. There's a tentative opening for end of March.

Perry - Two words: ROAD TRIP!

Bpaul - And I've got a couple bags of clams in the freezer too, to help relive the action another day.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Great post! I've never seen anything like it - hunting razor clams on a beach. And your clam tempura inside-out sushi is just awesome!

Please submit this as an entry into this month's "Grow Your Own" roundup!

Salty Lass said...

Brilliant re-cap, L. We missed the train despite getting the gun. Will not make the same mistake twice.

Russell Hews Everett said...

Aw you missed an amazing Hockey game!

Excellent looking sushi. I've been itching to go out for Razors but I'm having a hard time justifying the time/effort/drive. They're delicious no doubt, but they're only $14 a pound shucked at the fish shop near me...

But the March/April Spring dates have been tentatively announced. I'm thinking I'll go camp out at Kalaloch and hit the morning dig.

we are never full said...

i know this is an old post but i HAD to comment. i think you are genius for that tempura razor clam roll. absolutely genius!!!