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Dig good eating? Go clam digging

by: STAFF PHOTOS: BARB RANDALL - Joan Robbins is an expert at clam digging. This is a razor clam she harvested on the Washington coast.In my life I’ve had a wide variety of unusual and interesting experiences, but there is one thing I am aching to try: clam digging. So when I received a press release about the razor clam family workshop being planned for June 14 at Fort Stevens State Park, I was eager to sign up. Alas, a check of the family calendar revealed I am already committed that day, so I’ll miss out on the fun.

But you should go. Put on by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the razor clamming workshop is just one in a series of classes intended to get families to experience the great outdoors and the fun activities they can enjoy within our state. Barb RandallThe workshop is held at historic Fort Stevens State Park near Astoria. The registration fee ($52 for adults, $12 for youth) includes the use of all necessary equipment, instructions and materials, as well as your day pass for access to the picnic shelter at Coffenbury Lake. You need to pack your lunch, dress for the elements and plan to have a fun day.

“We’ll take you from the ocean to the dinner plate, showing you how to dig for your clams and clean your harvest, and we'll send you off with some great recipes to cook them with,” read the release.

According to the DFW, an 18-mile stretch of beach in Clatsop County accounts for 95 percent of Oregon’s razor clam harvest. Other areas with good clam populations are Indian Beach, Cannon Beach, Short Sands north of Mazanita, Cape Meares Beach at Tillamook, Agate Beach north of Newport, North Beach and South Beach at Newport, Waldport Beach, North Umpqua Spit at Winchester Bay, Bastendorff Beach and North Spit at Coos Bay, Whiskey Run at Bandon and Meyers Creek Beach at Gold Beach.This shucked and cleaned clam is ready to prepare for cooking.

The lower the tide, the more area will be available, of course, so minus tides are best. On the DFW website, dfw.state.or.us, it is recommended you be at the beach two hours before peak low tide. The department also said that during times of less swell, clams are likely to be closer to the surface and therefore easier to detect and dig.

How do you find clams? According to dfw.state.or.us, when the tide recedes, razor clams are left below dry sand and often leave a hole or indentation, referred to as a “show.” The show is caused by the clam's feeding or respiration, which loosens the sand above its neck. Clams are evidently speedy, so you have to dig quickly when you see the show.

At the workshop, you will learn to recognize shows and efficient technique to dig the clams out of the sand.

My friends Rich and Joan Robbins of Lake Oswego are expert clam diggers. They say it is easy and fun to do and results in excellent eating. On a recent excursion to the southern Washington coast, Joan got her limit of 15 clams in about 10 minutes one day and took just half an hour to reach the limit the next day.

Clams are excellent eating. Joan likes to double-dredge freshly caught clams to get a nice crunchy coating. She dredges the fresh clams first in flour, then dips them in a mixture of milk and egg, and then coats them with panko and whatever spices and herbs she likes. Then she fries them in hot oil and serves them with tartar sauce or cocktail sauce.

Don’t you want to go clam digging? I do, and though I will miss the workshop June 14, I vow to get down to the beach to try it this summer.

You can sign up for the family clam digging workshop online at dfw.state.or.us or call Mark Newell at 503-947-6018 or Janice Bellis at 503-947-6019.

For those needing a more detailed recipe, below is Emeril Lagasse’s Fried Clams with Classic Tartar Sauce recipe. You might use his Essence Creole Seasoning in the Robbins’ recipe above.

Bon Appetit! Make eating an adventure!

Fried Clams with Classic Tartar Sauce

Makes 4 first course servings

1 quart fresh shucked clams

1 cup milk

1 cup water

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup semolina flour

¼ cup flour

Lemon wedges

Serve with tartar sauce and lemon wedges

Emeril’s Essence Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast)

Makes about 2/3 cup

2 ½ tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients and blend thoroughly.

Tartar sauce

Makes about 1 ¼ cups

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons chopped green onions or scallions (green part only)

2 tablespoons drained sweet pickle relish

1 tablespoon drained capers, chopped if large

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon minced fresh tarragon leaves

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne

Fold together all ingredients in a bowl. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, giving the sauce one hour to stand before serving for the flavors to blend. Note: If using homemade mayonnaise, the sauce must be refrigerated and used within 24 hours.

Directions: Combine the clams with the milk, water and salt and let sit in the refrigerator for several hours. In a shallow baking dish, combine the semolina flour, flour and 1 teaspoon (or more according to your taste) Essence. Drain the clams and dip in the flour mixture to coat, and deep fry at about 365 degrees until golden brown, about 30 to 45 seconds. Be careful not to overcook.

Drain on paper towels and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse 2007

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281 ext 100 or by email at brandall@lakeoswegoreview.com. Follow her on Twitter at @barbrandallfood.

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