SALTING FOR RAZOR CLAMS // the local food report

First, watch this video. Woah! Cool, right? Those long, thin clams in the photo up there are called razor clams, and the harvesting technique in the video is called salting. The Irish came up with it originally, and about ten years ago it made its way to the Cape.

Before that, there weren't many local shellfishermen bringing razor clams to market. They were too hard to catch—their shells are paper-thin and break easily if you try to rake them, and they're fast—razor clams can easily out-dig your hands. But then salting caught on. Ron Brunelle, the foreman at Wellfleet Shellfish Company (my husband's wholesale plant), got into salting when he was a kid. His dad would have him tow a barge full of salt, and then they had a pump and a garden hose hooked up, and they would mix salt with sea water and spray the razor clams' burrows with this high-salinity mix. The clams got irritated (they don't like that much salt), and as you saw in the video, they would literally try to jump out of the sand. Ron says it's about as easy as shellfishing can get. 

A lot of people caught on. Ron says he's never seen so many people—husbands, wives, daughters, nephews—pouring out of Pleasant Bay as he did in the early 2000s, when everyone was salting for razor clams. The price was good—Asian markets in Boston and New York were paying $2 a pound, and you could almost always get the limit, which was 600 pounds a day. That's good money.

Finally, after five or six years, the frenzy died down. There weren't as many razor clams around—not necessarily because of over-harvesting, according to the Orleans Shellfish Constable—but because razor clam populations fluctuate quite a bit naturally. 

But this year, they're making a bit of a comeback. Ron says there aren't anywhere near as many shellfishermen salting for razor clams as there were a decade ago, but there are a few, and he and Alex are moving about 400 pounds a week. The cool thing is that now local restaurants are interested. Chefs have caught on to the fact that the meat is plentiful and sweet, and they're serving them with red sauce or steamed with garlic and beer. 

I tried my first razor clam the other night. I was surprised by the texture—like a cross between scallop and squid—and by how sweet the meat is. Alex put them under the broiler with Parmesan and olive oil—delicious! Here's the recipe, and if you're interested in going out for razor clams, check with your local shellfish constable. They're not regulated by the state, so it's up to each town to set the rules. 


This is more of a suggestion than a recipe, but here goes. Enjoy!

a dozen razor clams
olive oil, for drizzling
salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the broiler in your oven. Arrange the clams in their shells on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle the salt and pepper and Parmesan over top. Broil for 8-12 minutes, or until the clams open and the Parmesan gets golden brown on top. Check often, as the time varies widely from broiler to broiler! Serve hot.


Laura said...

This brings back memories! We used to get razor clams this way when we were kids back in the 80's on the flats in Eastham. My sister once put some salt in the hole, then bent over to look, and got squirted in the eye!

Jan said...

Wow, Elspeth never realized you could do that with just salt...quite amazing to watch!

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.