This article explains how to dig razor clams and how to clean razor clams. I’ve also included a recipe for our favorite way to eat them, fried!
Razor clams are one of those foods that is so delicious it makes you unable to do anything but mumble about how delicious they are and eat until you explode or the clams run out.
They can a bit of work to dig but trust me, you will not regret a single second of the time you spend out on the beach digging razor clams. The beach is beautiful and your collecting delicious nutritious food. What could possibly be a better use of your time?
Washington state regulations
This information may or may not be accurate for another state and could become outdated for Washington, make sure to check with your fish and game department for local current regulations.
First things first, you need to make sure there are open beaches and check to see when there are tides. You will be allowed to harvest in either the morning or evening. If it’s an evening tide you can’t start digging until after twelve. You’ll want to be there an hour or two before low tide. The razor clams are easiest to find while the tide is going out. You can pick up a tide book locally.
You can dig razor clams by hand, with a clam gun or with a clam shovel. Each person must have their own container for clams and you have to keep the first 15 clams you dig. You can share digging equipment and help each other but everyone has to be actively involved in the process.
Anyone older than 15 has to buy a license. You can a buy a year long- that lasts from April to March- or a three day license. The year long is only a few dollars more than the three day so it may be worth it for you to buy the year long.
Equipment for Digging Razor clams
The best kind of guns have suction holes on the handles; it makes them easier to work with (especially if you have small hands like I do) and you can get a better seal with them. I’ve seen clam guns made from metal or PVC; the material they are made out of doesn’t actually seem to impact how well they work.
You can use a plastic bag, or a bucket but a mesh bag is the best way to go. They usually have a clip so you can attach them to a belt loop and keep them out of the way while you’re digging.
Digging Razor Clams
Finding razor clams
Razor clams are about a foot down in the sand, in the surf. They reveal themselves when they create a little volcano or depression in the damp sand. Watch as someone walks across the beach, most of the depressions that form are made by razor clams pulling their necks back into their shells. As the clams are feeding they’ll also build little volcanos in the sand. The size of the depression or volcano is usually correlated to the size of the clam, look for the bigger ones. Remember you have to keep the first 15 you dig, bigger clams equal more to eat.
Razor clams like to be where fresh water feeds into the sea so that’s always a good place to start looking.
Digging razor clams with a shovel
You need to dig quickly, on the sea side of the hole. If you’re really quick you can sometimes flip them right out onto the sand. This is not something I’m any good at.
Digging Razor clams with a clam gun
You’ll want to learn to use the gun on some tester spots because it can be difficult to use. There are one or two holes somewhere on the top of the gun. As I mentioned before, guns with holes on the handle are easier to cover and create a vacuum to suck the clams and sand up.
With the hole uncovered, you push the gun as far down as you can into the sand over the clam with a slight angle towards the sea. When you’re in as deep as you can manage, cover the hole to create suction and pull the clam gun out, drop the sand and go back in the hole for another core. If there’s a clam in your first pull you should see it easily, if you don’t it’s always worth taking another two pulls. After that the clam is probably too far down for you to reach. You can also do one pull with the gun and go armpit deep in the hole to grab the clam, either way works. Sometimes you have to rock the gun back and forth or twist it side to side to get it into and out of the sand, but be careful not to break suction or you can lose your clam.
Make sure to have your license on you, safe from the water, and make sure to keep track of how many clams you have.
If you’re only driving a couple hours and it’s not a hot day you can just put your clams in a closed container so they don’t dry out. If you’re driving a ways or it’s hot, you can put them in salt water, fresh or on ice. The best way to transport them is in an ice chest on top of ice. If you put them in fresh water you’ll need to clean them that day since it will eventually kill them.
Cleaning Razor clams
It’s always best to clean razor clams the same day they were dug but you can wait until the next day. People say it’s okay to clean and eat them after they die but we always prefer to make sure they stay alive until we clean them.
You will need
Knife or scissors
Bucket or large bowl
Pot of boiling water
When you know you’re ready to clean your clams put them in a large bowl or bucket with fresh water. While they’re in water the clams will spit out sand making them easier to clean. You’ll probably want to change the water once and then rinse the clams off one last time.
Scalding razor clams
To remove the clams from their shells you need a pot of boiling water big enough to submerge them in. This is a messy job that’s really nice to do outside on a propane burner.
You can use your fingers, a pair of tongs or a big spoon to swish them around in the water and pull them out. The clams have been in the water long enough when they relax and the shell starts to open. At this point, they should pull easily from the shells, with the muscles staying attached to the clam. If not, they haven’t been in the water long enough. There’s a sort of mucous all over the clam that you also want to remove right now. Depending on the time of year and the size of the clam there might not be very much mucous.
Once the clams are out of their shell they need to go straight into cold water, ice water is best, this is to stop any cooking that might have started in the boiling water from continuing.
Gutting Razor clams
Take the clams out of the cold water and rinse them again. You’ll want to gut the razor clams near a running water source. This is easiest with a sharp pair of scissors but you can do it with a knife. Hold the razor calm with the neck facing you. The neck has two holes, cut all the way down the side of the smaller tube opening both tubes in the process but leaving the larger whole intact on one side so the clam neck is butter-flied open.
Continue your cut down the clam so you open up the body cavity and just the first half inch of the foot. You want to remove the gills and the dark brown digestive tract, you can also cut the tip of the neck off since it can be very tough. The foot is filled with what we call “fat” that is slightly darker than the rest of the clam but much lighter than the digestive tract. You want to preserve as much of that as possible because it’s fragile and delicious. As you work, rinse the clam regularly to keep from grinding sand into the flesh.
Cooking Razor Clams
You can eat the razor clams fresh, grind them or leave them whole, can them or freeze them.
Some people like to save the foot for frying or baking but grind the neck to use in chowder. Some of my family grind and can the necks so they can make clam chowder all year. Clams freeze well but like most seafood the quality starts to degrade noticeably after about three months in the freezer. Without a doubt our favorite way to eat razor clams is fried the same day they were dug.
Fried Razor Clams
You will need
Cleaned razor clams
Bread or cracker crumbs
Make a mix of two parts flour and one part crumbs. Lay your clams out and season both sides to taste with salt, pepper and garlic. Heat a large castor iron or stainless steel pan with olive oil and a couple tablespoons of butter over medium heat. While the oil is heating, coat your clams in the flour and crumb mix and set them aside. When the butter starts to sizzle you can add your first round of clams. Flip them when they are golden brown, it won’t take long. Add another tablespoon of butter before starting each batch and add more olive oil as necessary. You want enough fat that the clams are all setting in it.
We’ve eaten nothing but a pile of clams for dinner on more than one occasion without feeling the least deprived. They are also excellent along side rice and vegetables. We pretty much eat every kind of sea food you can think of with rice and vegetables, it’s always a good combination.
If you’re still on the fence about razor clams just go for it! Unless you’re one of those poor souls that doesn’t like seafood you will be in love with razor clams. They are delicious, easy to cook and worth every little bit of work involved.