A razor clam is a wily critter — not as fast as Wile E. Coyote, but still pretty crafty. A razor clam is an artist at avoiding the saute pan.
When spring weather is fair, the stars are in place and the tides are correct — low and minus — well, then it ain't so hard. But on a typical foul-weather day in early April, odds turn against the pursuer.
A cold, hard wind gusts out of the southwest, swelling the wave tops and pelting the sandy beaches with cold, biting rain. The tide is a moderate low, say a 1-inch holdover. You leave your toasty car, put on your cold clamming gear and head to the edge of the ocean. Wind and rain are in your face. Your fingers are already numb, but you expect the digging will be like the last set of wondrous tides — that is, you'll be able to easily spot the clams, with their large, round, indented holes.
Of course, nothing is showing. Folks are stomping — literally — across the beach near the surging surf. Occasionally the tide rushes in, and the cold water spills into their rubber boots. Sometimes the waves are high enough that they steal a clam digger's sack. No problem: There are no clams in it anyway. Buckets are more of a problem.
Old timers "dig the surf." They wear waders and are skilled at spotting the smallest and most imperceptible holes. They will throw the blunt end of their clam shovel into the ebbing salt water and wait for the clam to make a hasty retreat. When the bivalve does run away — straight down and listing to the west — the unisex clam leaves a trace of a hole, kind of an inverted dimple. That's when the digger strikes.
That human being gets plenty wet and appears sort of like a Civil War veteran or incarnation of a battered soul. If he or she goes into the grocery store to pick up smokes or a package of Doritos after the dig, people avoid them, fastidiously.
Good clam-diggers position their shovels 4 inches (give or take a couple centimeters) on the west side of the hole, dig the first shovel deep (extracting sand) and follow with a delicate second dip, so as not to break the shells. They slip their fingers into the hole and — hopefully — pull the clam up by its neck. It is generally advisable to pick the larger holes: larger clams mark their territory with a larger showing, most of the time. There's a good reason for picking the largest holes besides the fact that you'll get to eat bigger clams. The limit in Oregon is 15 clams, and you must keep the first 15 you dig, regardless of size, because 80 percent of replanted clams die, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Once you get your clams home, pull up your sleeves and start cleaning. It's easy. Watch that you are not squirted with a brown oozy mess that resembles spitting tobacco. Don't press the digger too hard. A quick bath in boiling water releases the shells. Do it quickly as not to cook the clams. Cool immediately with ice water.
Fillets are cooked a number of ways.
The most common is the triple-dip. That is, dredge the clam in flour. Dip it next into an egg-wash mixture, and then tumble the fillets in cracker crumbs.
Saute these clams in a hot pan with olive oil. Brown lightly and remove.
At the last second, some people love to sprinkle a small amount of Parmesan cheese over the sauteed clam.
If you prefer your clams simply prepared, dip them in rice flour. That's all. Saute these tasty morsels in olive oil infused with garlic. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and cracked pepper. You can make a dipping sauce with a little ketchup, stone-cut mustard and chipotle. Thin the dipping sauce with a small amount of sweet soy.
Even if there are no clams to behold, a morning on the beach is a morning well spent.
But if you're lucky, there is no better sauteed flesh than a fresh-out-of-the-ocean razor clam.