Magazine article Sunset

Digging for Dinner

Magazine article Sunset

Digging for Dinner

Article excerpt

Author of Fat of the Land, Langdon Cook tells us how to hunt for dinner in oceans and bays. It's a culinary adventure anyone can try

The day razor clam season opens in the fall. my wife and I and a couple of friends drive nearly three hours to Copalis Beach on the Washington coast to dig our own. Sure, you can buy them. But the frozen stuff barely hints at the Pacific razor clam's golden-hued beauty, its heft, its rich oceanic flavor that I swear is at its best when you rustle it up yourself, relying on your own sweat and know-how - a pleasure similar to harvesting a perfect tomato from your garden.

As the sun dips beyond the horizon, we stand on the beach - waders cinched and clam guns in hand - with other impatient clammers, waiting for the tide to go out, studying the shifting patterns of sand as though they were tea leaves. Will there be fresh razors in our future? The tide drops, lapping waves recede, and we start to see the show, a quarter-size dimple in the sand. A murmur rises from the beach, then a cavalcade of hoots as clammers dig. My gun plunges into wet sand and pulls out ... a plug of empty beach. Upon closer look: My quarry is still in the hole, using its muscular foot to make a hasty getaway. I jam my arm in to the hilt and pull gold from the murk. "Gotcha!" My first of 15 (the daily limit), with a shell length of nearly 6 inches, drops into the bag. Fried razor clams and cold beer are on the menu tonight.

Once you dig clams from the sand or pry mussels off the rocks, you'll become addicted to the sport and the fresh seafood meal that promises to follow. Here, I give you my tips on how to get started foraging the beaches and how to cook up what you bag.

Hunting for razors on stormy Copalis Beach, WA

BEST CATCHES FOR NEWBIES

1. Littlenecks are the West Coast's answer to steamers and among the easiest of clams for beginners (including children) to harvest, because they can be dug just a few inches from the surface with a garden cultivator. Both species in the West (the native littleneck and the Manila clam) prefer gravelly or muddy beaches from Alaska to Mexico. Hot spots include Tillamook Bay in Oregon and Washington's Puget Sound. Harvest them year-round. For where to go, see "Get Started" (page 86).

2. Mussels live in colonies, attaching themselves to rocks, piers, and oysters by filaments known as a byssus, or beard. There are two varieties: the California mussels, which are larger and live on ocean beaches, and the smaller bay mussels, which live in more protected waters. Getting a mussel can be as easy as picking fruit from a tree. Just use your fingers and some elbow grease to pry them off rocks. Often they're ignored by foragers because of the unsightly barnacles, limpets, and other forms of sea life that attach to the shell, but the uninvited houseguests are easy to brush off. Be aware that mussels are susceptible to toxic red tides during warmer months; check with fish and game/wildlife departments (page 86).

3. Razor clams live on sandy, storm-tossed ocean beaches from Alaska to California, where they can be found during the lowest tides each month, with seasons varying from state to state. You'll need a clam gun and you have to be quick, because these bivalves' muscular feet dig themselves out of trouble before you can say "beerbattered clams and a cold Rainier." In Washington, the opening of clam season (fall into spring, a weekend per month) can attract thousands of clammers on one beach. Look for razor clam locations and openings on department of fish and game/wildlife websites (page 86).

For the more advanced forager

Dungeness crab, the preeminent crab south of Alaska, are found up and down the coast below the low-tide mark and- mors often - deeper. To catch them, you'll need to set a baited crab trap or ring in io to So feet of water. Some crabbers use dip nets or even dive for them. Winter is peak time for flavor; seasons vary by state. …

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