The Best Pacific Northwest Clam Chowder
In the Pacific Northwest, we believe that going to the beach is a year round activity. Because of our weather patterns and location on the globe, the ocean is pretty much 50 degrees year round. Even in the summer, the water is chilly. However, we don't let that stop us from enjoying our wild beaches, with Washington's mild temperatures we can experience seaside year round. Living in the Puget Sound area of Washington State also gives us so many different options for the beach, all close to home.
We love going to the ocean. My kids enjoy exploring, beach combing and running away from the waves. In celebration of New Year's we decided to take a trip to Moclips, WA and stay in a little cabin right on the water. It was perfect!
A few times a year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife open up the state beaches for razor clamming, usually in the winter. Razor clamming is a tradition for my husband's family because they love seafood and they love being able to forage for their own food. We met up with my brother in law's family and Grandma and Grandpa to bring in the new year with Razor Clamming.
Razor Clams are a bit different than the clam that you have in your mind when you think of a clam. They are long and skinny and are dug up in the sand on the beach. Low tide is the best time because you can see a little breathing hole where the clam is. However, you have to dig quick because they have a digger muscle that can dig very quickly down when they feel threatened. This digger is very tender and is the best part of the clam. The crew loves frying them up for a tasty treat.
Often, the low tide means you're digging in the dark, but luckliy for us, this year, low tide was right before sunset. It was a clear, cold day, but perfect clamming weather. It's not as fun for the kids when it's raining sideways.
There are special shovels that are for clamming. Our family has discovered that a long metal pipe with a handle is the best method for sucking out the clams from the sand. First, you push down the pipe hard into the sand and hold your fingers over the small holes in the handle to create a vacuum, when you pull up the clam can't escape. This is a pretty basic catch.
Everyone has a job, the adults dig and the kids look for the clams in the sand.
It's a wet, messy job, but the kids love the thrill of finding the clams.
Make sure to not go over your limit, 15 clams per person in Washington State. Adults need a permit, but kids don't. We respect the sea and its creatures. That way, we can make sure there are enough clams to dig next time.
The setting sun made such a perfect backdrop for the hard work of digging.
After everyone has their limit, then you take your catch home and rinse off with water as best as you can.
Next, dunk the clams in boiling water and then in a cold water bath. Then it's easy to remove the shells.
Next, you have to seperate the digger from the rest of the clam and clean out the "guts" of the stomach. I personally can't handle this part of the job, so for specific directions check out the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website for instructions on how to clean your Razor Clams. You want to get them really clean, so we usually do multiple washes.
Layers and Layers of clean clams.
While fried clams are tasty, my favorite method of eating clams is Clam Chowder. I began my quest for finding the perfect clam chowder recipe soon after my husband and I got married because I wanted to be able to make use of all these fresh clams we were digging. It took many different experiments, mostly trying to find the best way to make a thick "Ivar's style" Clam Chowder. In the Seattle area, Ivar's Clam Chowder is the best around. However, I think my recipe might be just a bit better. In fact, according to my crew, my chowder is the Best Clam Chowder around.
I usually start my chowder making process by frying up the bacon. Reserve the bacon grease!
First, chop up your veggies. I usually start with the onion and celery.
Saute the onions and celery in the bacon grease, add salt and pepper.
While the onions and celery are cooking, I dice my potatoes into small bit sized pieces. Then add to the pot along with the chicken broth.
Next come the spices. I like lots of spices and flavor in my clam chowder. Old Bay Seasoning is definately not optional!
Simmer the soup until the veggies are tender.
Meanwhile chop up your fresh clams into small bite sized pieces.
Add the clams after the veggies are tender, you don't want to overcook the clams.
To make your chowder thick and creamy, the only way I have found that works is to start with a roux. Melt your butter, stir in the flour and add the half and half. I zap the half and half in the microwave for 1 minute. The warmed half and half mixes so much better with the roux.
Stir until creamy and thick.
Meanwhile, microwave the milk for 1 minute and pour into the pot.
Now add the creamy roux, stirring well until the chowder is smooth and the consistency you want. Add the bacon and take out the bay leaf. Now you're ready to serve with some crusty bread or baking powder bisquits.
Thick and creamy- perfect! See, I told you it's the Best Pacific Northwest Clam Chowder!
The Best Pacific Northwest Clam Chowder
- 1 1/2 cup chopped fresh razor clams clams (or 2 cans of minced clams)
- 4 slices of thick bacon
- 1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
- 1 cup finely chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
- 2 cups diced (with skin on) gold potatoes (about 4 medium)
- 4 cups of chicken stock (homemade is the best)
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 cups half and half warmed
- 2 cups whole milk warmed
- 1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground pepper or more to taste
- 1 Tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon dill
- 1 teaspoon basil
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 /2 teaspoon sage
- 1/4 cup of fresh parsley, de-stemmed and chopped.
- 1 bay leaf
Fry bacon, roughly chop and reserve the bacon grease. In a large stock pot add the onions, celery, salt and pepper and reserved bacon grease. Saute until slightly translucent. Add the potatoes, chicken broth and the rest of the spices. Simmer until the potatoes are tender. Add the minced clams to the pot.
Make a roux with the butter and flour, whisk in the warmed half and half until creamy. Add the warmed milk to the pot and then stir in the roux. Stir well until the chowder is thick and creamy. Add the bacon and take out the bay leaf. Serve hot.
Enjoy on a cold winter's day or even in the middle of the summer!