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HOT DIGGITY CLAMS.

Byline: Jim Boyd The Register-Guard

FLORENCE - This is a good week to go clam digging. Morning minus tides are forecast through the weekend, making the six major species of clams that inhabit Oregon's tide flats and beaches easy targets for people who are hungry for steamed, fried or minced clams in chowder or fritters.

I know because I drove over to Florence three weeks ago to go clamming on the previous series of minus tides.

Freeman Rowe, a retired community college biology instructor, and I parked, put on waterproof gear and walked out onto the clam flats. No more than an hour later, we each had limits of 36 softshell clams, an Eastern species that has flourished in Siuslaw Bay since the clam was introduced in the 1880s.

Rowe's recipe for clam fritters is an easy one. Simply mix chopped clams with crushed saltine crackers and mix in an egg as a binder. Heat a pan, add enough olive oil to coat the pan, spoon the clam-cracker mixture onto the hot oil and fry briefly like pancakes until browned on both sides.

"Very tasty," I thought when I had the fritters for dinner the following night.

Razor clams are found on Oregon's sandy beaches. The cockle, gaper, littleneck, butter and softshell are the major clams of Oregon bays.

"Unquestionably, the razor clam is considered the premiere clam in the state in terms of sport to dig and quality of eating," says John Johnson of Waldport, now retired as shellfish project leader for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and author of the guidebook "Clam Digging & Crabbing in Oregon."

Ranking Oregon's clams in terms of taste, Johnson said, "Razors, No. 1. It's a tossup, kind of, between gapers and butter clams. Those would rank about even, I think. Then littleneck, softshell and cockle, probably in that order. Cockles are fairly strong, but they make very good chowder and you can actually clean them and pound them up and fry them just like you would anything else. But they are the strongest-flavored clam I think there is."

The number to call for a recorded message about shellfish harvest closures is (503) 986-4728, the Oregon Department of Agriculture's shellfish information line. Clatsop County beaches north of Seaside were open to the digging of razor clams the last time I checked, but beaches south of Seaside remained closed because of dropping but still unacceptable levels of domoic acid, from toxic plankton ingested by the clams. Clamming in all Oregon bays and the harvest of mussels from rocky beaches are being allowed.

Ninety percent of the razor clams dug in Oregon come from the beaches between Tillamook Head and the mouth of the Columbia River, Johnson said.

However, pockets of razor clams have been found farther south on somewhat protected beaches such as those between Waldport and Yachats, at Washburne State Park north of Heceta Head, in the first couple hundred yards of beach on the south side of the Siuslaw River jetty, on the north side of the Umpqua River jetty, on the spit north of Coos Bay and at a couple of spots as far south as Gold Beach. Razor clammers should wait for a green light from public health officials, however, before digging on any of those southerly beaches.

Meanwhile, all bays are open to clamming, with cockles the most prevalent species there.

"Cockles are really abundant in Coos Bay and Alsea Bay and north in Tillamook Bay, Netarts Bay and also in Yaquina Bay," Johnson said. "Probably 60 to 80 percent of all bay clams harvested are cockles."

Cockles are popular because they are abundant and they can be picked up off the surface or raked up from the top couple of inches of sandy beach, Johnson said. Also, you don't get dirty the way you do digging in the mud for softshell clams.

The Umpqua estuary at Gardiner produces some of the largest softshell clams, Johnson said.

However, the best bet for a family, in terms of driving distance from Eugene-Springfield and variety of clams to be dug, is the north spit at Coos Bay, he said. The tide flats there offer cockle, butter and gaper clams.

"It's some of the best digging in the state," he said.

The gaper clam is the state's largest, up to 7 inches long. It's known around Coos Bay as the Empire clam because it's found near that community, and in Tillamook as blue or blue neck clam because of the blue color of the meat near the tip of the neck. Horse and horseneck clam are its other common names.

For 75 cents, the Oregon State University Sea Grant program offers a map-fold brochure with photos of the six major clam species and digging, cleaning and cooking instructions for each species.

For example, for cleaning littleneck, small softshells and butter clams to be steamed and eaten whole, the brochure suggests this method to rid them of sand: Put them in a bucket with a solution of 1/2 cup salt per gallon of cold water and periodically sprinkle corn meal on the surface of the water. In eight to 12 hours, the clams should pump themselves mostly free of sand. Don't leave the clams in this solution for more than 36 hours (or they may die).

This brochure, titled "Oregon's Captivating Clams" (ORESU-G-96-003), can be obtained from Extension Service offices, along with an unnumbered brochure with maps of the clam beds in Oregon estuaries and a handout with recipes.

Or, if you can't find a copy of Johnson's book "Clam Digging & Crabbing in Oregon" at a sporting goods store, he will mail you a copy if you send a check for $12 to John A. Johnson, P.O. Box 1601, Waldport, OR 97394. The book contains maps of the estuaries and full instructions.

Surprisingly, most of the clam chowder you will find in restaurants on the Oregon Coast is made from East Coast clams because so little commercial clam harvesting takes place in Oregon.

Even one of my favorites, the Mo's brand of clam chowder base that is cooked on the third floor over Mo's original restaurant in Newport, uses clams that are harvested by dredge offshore from New Jersey to Virginia.

So for a true taste of Oregon, go dig your own clams. Here are some recipes you might want to use to prepare your catch:

Clam Hash

"During the summer months when we lived at the shore near the mouth of the Columbia River, we used to feast almost daily on clams, and we ate them in many different ways. Clam hash was one of the favorites, and although it was never made the same way twice, it always tasted ambrosial. This is an approximation of it," James Beard says in the headnote for this recipe.

6 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon finely minced onion

1 1/2 cups finely diced cooked potatoes

1 1/2 to 2 cups minced clams

Salt and pepper

Nutmeg

4 egg yolks

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

6 tablespoons heavy cream

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet and cook the onion until it is just transparent. Add the finely diced potatoes and the clams and press them down with a spatula. Salt and pepper lightly and add a few flecks of nutmeg.

Let the hash cook for about 10 minutes and stir with a fork or spatula, mixing in some of the crust which forms on the bottom. Press down again.

Beat the egg yolks well, combine with the Parmesan cheese and heavy cream. Pour this over the hash very gently, and cover tightly for a few minutes until the egg is set.

Recipe from "James Beard's Fish Cookery."

New England Clam Chowder

1 1/2 cups minced fresh or canned clams, clam juice reserved

3 or 4 slices bacon or salt pork, cut in fine pieces

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 medium potatoes

Water

Salt and pepper

2 cups half and half

Thyme

Paprika

Chopped parsley

Shuck and mince fresh clams, saving the juice. Or drain canned minced clams and save the juice.

Fry bacon or salt pork until lightly brown. Remove it from the pan.

Add onion to pan and cook until translucent.

Peel and dice the potatoes and cook them in boiling water until just tender. Take them out and let the water cook down a bit.

Combine the bacon, onion, potato and potato water in a saucepan, and add the clam juice. Bring this to a boil and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Gradually add the half and half. When it has just come to the boiling point, add the clams. Just let them heat through. Sprinkle with the merest pinch of finely rubbed thyme.

Serve in heated cups with a dash of paprika and a little chopped parsley.

For Manhattan Clam Chowder, James Beard says, substitute tomato juice for the cream and add more clam broth to this basic clam chowder recipe.

However, other Manhattan chowder recipes include such ingredients as green pepper, carrot and celery, and use crushed or diced tomatoes instead of tomato juice.

Recipe adapted from "James Beard's Fish Cookery."

Pan-Fried Razor Clams

1 1/2 pounds cleaned razor clams

Salt and pepper to taste

Flour

4 eggs, beaten

4 cups dried bread crumbs, cracker meal or panko

1/2 cup olive oil

Tartar sauce (recipe follows)

Lemon

Salt and pepper the clams, and dredge in flour, shaking off the excess. Dip the clams in the beaten egg, and then in the bread crumbs, coating well.

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over high heat. Lay the clams in the oil, frying for about 1 minute on each side, or until nice and brown.

Serve with tartar sauce and lemon. Serves 2.

Note: If the clams have been frozen previously, it's a good idea to pound the necks gently with a meat tenderizer before cooking.

Tartar Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup dill pickle, chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients well and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Recipe from Chef Eric Jenkins, Duncan Law Seafood Consumer Center, Astoria.

Clams in Black Bean Sauce

2 tablespoons salted black beans

2 tablespoons dry sherry or rice wine

4 pounds small hard-shell clams, in the shell

3 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 teaspoons chopped ginger

1/2 cup clam broth

1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Coarsely chop the beans and soak in the sherry for at least 30 minutes.

Steam the clams open and reserve the broth.

Saute the garlic and ginger in oil in a heavy skillet or wok. When the garlic and ginger begin to color, add the clams, clam broth, soy sauce, sugar and the bean mixture. Stir-fry for 2 minutes, coating all the clams with the sauce. Add the cornstarch mixture and continue stirring. When the sauce thickens, remove from the heat and serve immediately.

Serves 6 or more as a side dish; serves 4 as a main course.

Note: Serve with Chinese noodles, rice or a crusty loaf of hot garlic bread.

Recipe from Bruce Cost in "The California Seafood Cookbook."

Clams in Sauce Bordelaise

1 onion, minced

2 tablespoons ( 1/4 stick) butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 can (10 ounces) concentrated chicken broth

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 green onion, minced

1 clove garlic, pressed

1 small bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon dried chervil

1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon

Pinch of thyme

2 sprigs parsley, minced

Lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups raw clams, chopped or sliced

Saute onion slowly in butter until golden. Add flour and cook, stirring, until the roux is brown. Measure out chicken broth and add enough water to make 2 cups. Add this and tomato paste to the roux; stir and cook until thickened.

Meanwhile, pour wine with green onion and garlic into a saucepan and over medium-high heat, reduce it down to about 1 tablespoon. Pour sauce into the reduced wine mixture, add bay leaf, chervil, tarragon and thyme and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add parsley, then lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in clams and cook just under a boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve on rice or noodles or in an omelet, or on pork, with hot French bread.

Recipe from "The Complete Book of American Fish and Shellfish Cookery" by Elizabeth Bjornskov.

CLAM DIGGING

Shellfish license: Required for the first time this year for all clam diggers and crabbers 14 years or older. Cost is $6.50 for Oregon residents.

Daily limit: First 15 razor clams taken; 20 butter, littleneck, cockle and gaper clams (but only 12 may be gapers); and the first 36 softshell or other clams taken. Unbroken butter, cockle or littleneck clams may be returned to immediate digging area. All other clams must be retained regardless of size or condition.

Rules: Each digger must have own container, dig own clams, and may not possess more than one limit of clams while in the digging area (except under a Disabled Clam Digging Permit).

Shellfish closures: Call (503) 986-4728 for beaches open to razor clamming.

Jim Boyd can be reached at 338-2363 or jboyd@guardnet.com.

CAPTION(S):

Softshell clams are in abundance in the tide flats of Siuslaw Bay. Other clams found in Oregon bays are the cockle, gaper, littleneck and butter clam.
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Title Annotation:Food; Grab a shovel, pick up a permit and dig in to an Oregon delicacy
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Apr 7, 2004
Words:2275
Previous Article:Authentic Indian meal spices up Eugene kitchen.
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