DIG 'EM UP! Finding Clams and NOT Cooking Chowder
Having grown up in a small town in the very North Eastern corner of California, i never really got the seafood experience until moving up north. I had only ever really had clams in chowder, and yes, the canned kind. Little did i know just how much fun they could be! Just an hour and 15 minutes outside of Seattle are a pair of cabins located on the water of the Case Inlet. The inlet is an arm of water in the southern Puget Sound region between the Key Peninsula and Harstine Island... aka clam paradise. My first trip here unloaded all kinds of information on the "clam culture" that really exists in the PNW.
Before you get started...
From the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife, "The legal minimum size for Manila clams, native littleneck clams, butter clams and cockles on public beaches is 1.5 inches. There is no minimum size for any other species of clam (this includes geoducks, horse clams, varnish clams, and softshell clams) nor is there any minimum size for mussels. At Quilcene Bay WDFW Tidelands, the legal minimum size for clams is 1.25 inches.
Minimum sizes are set for these clam species for two reasons:
To maintain a sustainable resource. These clams reach sexual maturity and have a chance to spawn at least once before they reach 1.5 inches; and,
To prevent waste of the resource. Clams grow fastest when they are small, so taking them before they reach 1.5 inches wastes all that potential for growth. Undersized clams and any clams not taken can be easily replaced in the harvest hole and covered shallowly; they'll survive just fine, grow bigger and have a chance to spawn. Click here for more information on the requirement to fill clam holes."
For more information on sustainable clamming, crabbing, and fishing visit the WDFW website.
Make sure to check with the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife about Red Tide and Domoic Acid Levels Before Clamming!
Difference in Clams...
There are over 2000 kinds of clams but the five major hard shell clams you'll find in Washington are...
- Manila - Originally from Japan, clean and sweet flavor
- Cockle - Eaten all over the world in a variety of ways, a recipe from Singapore
- Native Littleneck - Very rarely produces pearls, found from Alaska to Mexico
- Eastern Softshell - Big market on the Atlantic Coasts, you can find beds in Skagit Bay
- Butter - Larger, found in gravel beaches, check Domoic Acid levels
Cooking and Cleaning...
Before you cook the clams, you have to clean them! Soak your clams for 20 minutes in fresh water just before cooking. As the clams breathe they filter through water. When the fresh water is filtered, the clam pushes salt water and sand out of their shells. After 20 minutes, the clams will have cleaned themselves of most of the salt and sand they have collected.
(Pro tip: add 1/4 c cornmeal per 4-5 lbs of clams while soaking to make sure they spit out all that sand!)
Clams on the Grill
If clams are your main dish, it's about one pound per person.
Prepare grill for medium-high heat. Place clams directly on grate and grill (no need to turn or rotate) until they pop open, about 3–5 minutes. Transfer clams to a large bowl, discarding any that are not open. Serve with a salad, pickled veggies, toasty bread, and wine for a super easy fix.
Classic Clams with White Wine
- 1/2 cup butter
- 6 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup Walla Walla sweet onion, minced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Kung Fu Girl)
- 4 pounds of clams (Manilla), rinsed and cleaned
- 2 teaspoons smoked salt
- Few sticks fresh rosemary
- small handful fresh garden sage leaves
- *optional 1 lemon cut into wedges
Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, salt and cook for 2-3 minutes until garlic is fragrant but not burned. Add wine to deglaze the pan and then increase heat to medium-high until wine is brought to a simmering boil. Add clams and herbs and cook covered for 5-7 minutes (stir once) until clams have opened. Disregard any unopened clams and enjoy! (Add spicy chorizo with the garlic and onions for a step up)