This is my grandma’s cousin Bill. Bill is wearing the clam hat. You might think you too would look good in a clam hat, but you need to ask yourself, do you really deserve it? Bill gets to wear this hat because a) he’s cooking clams, and b) he and his son dug and cleaned over 10 buckets of clams and were then generous enough to share. I’m not so good at sharing, especially when it comes to clams. I probably shouldn’t wear the hat.
some of the best seafood in the country. I already talked a little bit about what it was like to grow up in Alaska, but I may not have mentioned that it is indescribably difficult to escape a childhood in Alaska without becoming a first class seafood snob. I distinctly remember a bumper sticker on the wall of the cannery where we delivered our fish. It said, “friends don’t let friends eat farmed fish.” The attitude, however, was more along the lines of friends don’t let friends eat anything other than Copper River Salmon, Alaskan king crab, spot shrimp from Prince William Sound, the list goes on. We are the ones embarrassing our dining companions by grilling the waiter about the origin of our dinner. (Is is local? Anyone seen that episode of Portlandia?)
My great-grandparents arrived in Alaska in the early 1930s to dig clams in Boswell Bay. At the time, clam digging was a big business. My grandma and Bill remember summers spent as young children on Mummy Island (near Cordova). The older kids watched the younger ones while their parents were out digging clams. Sometimes there were as many as a dozen families on the island, each with their own rustic cabin. The commercial clam industry was devastated by the 1964 earthquake, when the ground was raised several feet. If you are interested in learning more about the early days, the National Parks website has a great article on the first commercial clam canneries in Alaska.
These days, recreational clam diggers from California to Alaska flock to the coast each year. If you’ve never seen a razor clam, a few words are in order. First, the clams are big (at least as long as an adult hand). They are always dug at low tide, and can be found as far as a half a mile off the main beach. A clam digger knows to start digging when he sees a small hole in the sand, but the clams are fast, so digging them is hard work!
Put aside any preconceived notion that clams taste fishy or rubbery in your mouth. A fresh razor clam is tender and delicious! Some people seem to be set on shoving all clams into a chowder, but the best way to enjoy razor clams is battered and fried. The is hands down my favorite razor clam recipe! (Side note: you’ll notice in the photo above that Bill’s wife steamed the shrimp with a generous pinch of whole cloves…also very yummy.)
- About 12 razor clams
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup flour
- oil (choose an oil with a high smoking point, such as peanut or canola)
- Heat oil in a shallow pan until it reaches about 380 degrees fahrenheit, or just below its smoking point.
- In a medium sized bowl, beat eggs and two tablespoons of water until completely combined.
- Place one cup of flour in a wide, shallow bowl.
- Prepare a plate with two or three paper towels to place the finished clams on.
- Prepare your work station by placing the eggs and flour close to the stove.
- One by one, dip each clam into the egg mixture and then into the flour.
- Fry until golden brown. Place finished clams on the plate covered with paper towels, and sprinkle lightly with salt.