The Pacific Northwest Coast is one of the most environmentally protected coastlines in the world.
Oregon has the most widely accessible beaches; Long Beach in Washington is also a great spot, and is arguably the longest drivable beach in the world. These beaches, and more than 400 bays and estuaries, offer some of the most fertile clamming beds in North America.
The most popular clam by far is the Pacific Northwest Razor Clam and I believe it is one of our region’s best-kept secrets.
Abalone is delicious, but it sells for up to $125 a pound. Harvesting is very difficult, and that’s if you can find them! The taste is very similar to a Razor Clam but the Razor Clam has a digger, which is more tender and tasty than an Abalone. Razor Clams are also in good supply and are easily harvested.
In Asia the Pacific Northwest Geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck) sells for up to $300 per clam, in part because the Asians believe it has aphrodisiac qualities. Geoducks are not easily found or harvested. Forty years ago Geoducks in the Pacific Northwest were cheap and generally chopped up for clam chowder. Today, they are mostly used in sushi and very rarely fried whole. They call the Geoduck the “King of Clams” because they are huge, with some up to 160 years old and six feet long. However, there are a lot of people that don’t like Sushi and even though I like Sushi, I don’t like Geoduck Sushi. I do not care for the flavor of the non-neck meat either. For me, the Razor Clam is King because of its availability, delicate flavor and tenderness.
The Pacific Northwest Razor Clam is in abundance and for the most part all you need to harvest them is a shellfish license, shovel and a bucket. With a limit of fifteen per person, a family of four can take sixty in a day, enough for three or four fantastic family meals and all for the cost of a shellfish license. I grew up not just eating Razor Clams but these other now-rare shellfish eatables as well. In fact, in the 1960’s sometimes we had so much abalone we fed it to our dogs!
The better part of the last forty years I spent my career traveling the globe—Canada, Mexico, France, Britain, Israel (even in Jerusalem you can find fresh shellfish). No matter where I went, I was always interested in experiencing local shellfish. I would ask people if they had ever tried a Pacific Northwest Razor Clam and, without fail, I got the same answer, “Oh, yeah, those little round things.” Nobody even knew what a Razor Clam looked like.
There are close relatives to the Pacific Razor Clam found around the world but none can compare with the large, thick, flavorful Pacific Razor Clam. For example, on the East Coast you’ll find Razor Fish Clams (same family as the Pacific Razor Clam), also called Jackknife Clams, and they can be found on the Northern European Coast too. There are other clam varieties in China, Australia, Chile, Peru, Argentina, and more. You will rarely see Razor Fish Clams and these other variants fried whole, like you would a Pacifi c Northwest Razor Clam (filleted and opened flat like a steak). They are too small and narrow, so they are prepared like steamer clams or in a wine sauce or sometimes as clam strips. They are good but, in my opinion, not nearly as good as a Pacific Northwest Razor Clam.
Northwest Razor Clam.
People outside of the Pacific Northwest don’t know they exist, but many Oregonians don’t even know that Razor Clams are found on our own beaches!
If you are a local Razor Clammer you cannot imagine paying $100 to $200 per pound for a Pacific Northwest Razor Clam. But it’s only a matter of time before demand outgrows availability. In fact, they farm Abalone in California and now Geoducks in Washington. Scientists are now experimenting with farming Razor Clams too.