Razor Clams on the Griddle – with Coconut Oil and Preserved Lime

Razor Clams with Preserved Lime-1728

The preserved limes have been ready for almost two weeks, but because of construction we couldn’t use them until now, until Razor Clams on the Griddle –  with Coconut Oil and Preserved Limes.  Spicy, perfumed with preserved lime and basil, this is the sweetest clam we know, and the simplest to prepare, even if it does require a bit of courage to cook it.

Huh?

There’s something that no razor clam recipe ever mentions and I’m going to give it to you straight: You’re cooking a live animal.  Now this is true for lobster and  fresh littlenecks or oysters as well.  But most of us boil or steam our lobsters out of sight and even if we grill other bivalves, the most dramatic aspect of their expiration is their shells popping open.  But fresh razor clams atop a grill or griddle will sometimes extend their feet in a futile effort to escape, then retract them before relinquishing their clammy ghosts.  It doesn’t take long, but it’s long enough for an observer to register what’s happening.  And muse upon it.  Frankly, I’m all for people taking a front and center seat to the death of animals they eat.  The least you can do if you’re going to eat an animal is acknowledge that you’re killing it.  That’s my perspective.  It may not be yours.  If you can’t bear to see razor clams die, then don’t cook them on a griddle–put them in a covered pot with a half-cup of white wine and a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil and steam them until their shells pop open and the flesh is just firm.  Then proceed with the rest of the recipe.

If you’re accustomed to New England littlenecks, the flavor of an Atlantic razor or jackknife clam, as it is sometimes called, can be a surprise–it’s sweet, not briny, with very little of the minerality that we associate with oysters and sometimes clams.  Eating them isn’t complicated.  Viewed from above the clam is elongated, with its mobile foot inside a sheath.  This foot may suddenly thrust its long turgid self into view, waggling about, occasioning bouts of off-color mirth as it protrudes from the shell.  At the opposite end of the clam are a pair of siphons; one for drawing water in, the other for expelling it out.  Between the foot and the siphons are the gills and digestive tract, including the stomach, which usually appears as a dark bulge about midway between both ends.  I tend to eat everything except the stomach, if it registers.  The more fastidious eat only the feet.  If you eat clams raw, then know this–you’re eating everything I just described.   When I first started eating razor clams I used to remove the foot from the sheath and ignore the rest, then I saw a post from a French blogger (Darya, was it you?) about razor clams, in which she served the clams still whole.  I asked her about it and she replied that in France you sometimes see them trimmed up, and other times not.  In any event, when they’re served whole, she observed, French people eat them that way.  When in Nice, as they say. . .

Last night we had a birthday dinner for Jody with friends, none of whom had eaten razor clams before.  To a person, they consumed them all in short order.  The day before, when we made these for the blog, we ate everything you see in the first photograph except for three.  The next morning I chopped the up the remainders, heated them with a little farro and a simple tomato sauce and ate them for breakfast, which brings me to the second surprise in this recipe, the preserved limes.  Those of you who read our earlier post about preserved citrus (linked above) may recall our Moroccan friend Talib, who expressed a certain skepticism about preserving limes.  He was wrong.  Preserved limes are floral, with a wonderful delicate scent that hovers above a sharp citrus accent.  By all means, make them.  Even a day later, above the flavor of the chopped razor clams, above the farro, above the tomato, I could still detect the presence of the preserved limes.  Enjoy.  Ken

Note: Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so while you can make these a bit ahead of time, make sure to warm them before serving.

Razor Clams with Preserved Lime-1722-2

Razor Clams on the Griddle

with Coconut Oil and Preserved Lime

Ingredients:

  • 16 super fresh razor clams
  • ¼ cup organic virgin coconut oil–use a very high quality one so the taste is fresh and very coconutty
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1-3 bird, or other chili peppers, sliced paper thin–you decide how hot you want them to be
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • ½ preserved lime, or lemon, skin cut into ¼ inch dice
  • Juice of 1 fresh lime
  • ½ teaspoon garum or other fish sauce
  • ¼ cup basil, cut into chiffonade

Directions:

  1. Rinse the clams under cold running water to remove any sand.
  2. Heat the coconut oil with the garlic in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Cook until the garlic is tender, about 2 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients, except the garum and basil, and cook 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat.
  3. Preheat a griddle to high.  Set the clams on the griddle and cook 2 minutes.  Flip to the other side and cook until the shells pop apart revealing the clam, another minute or so.  Transfer to a large platter.  Remove the top shells–they twist off easily.
  4. Reheat the sauce, add the garum and basil and spoon over the clams.
  5. Serve immediately.
  6. If you want to do them ahead.  Simply pop them into hot oven for a few minutes to heat through.  Take care not to overcook them.

Razor Clams with Preserved Lime-1708

Razor Clams with Preserved Limes 3-1-2

Razor Clams with Preserved Limes 2-1-2

Razor Clams with Preserved Limes 2-2-2

Razor Clams with Preserved Limes 3-2-2

Razor Clams with Preserved Limes 3-3-2

Razor Clams with Preserved Lime-1720-2

Razor Clams with Preserved Lime-1722

The ends with the bulges are the siphons. The smooth opposite ends are the feet.

JODY NOTES

I grew up digging for razor clams on the Cape as a sport.  We’d head out to the flats at low tide and jump up and down on the sand until we saw a small geyser of water spouting up out of a hidden clam.  Then we’d pounce and, carefully so as not to cut up our hands, dig up razor clams.  I don’t remember ever bringing them home.  We’d just leave them on the flats to burrow back into the sand.

Somewhere I have a memory of  eating a razor clam chowder.  I remember, because it was so good.

Years ago I tasted them cooked à la plancha at Pinotxo in the Boqueria market in Barcelona and I was hooked.  They were simply thrown on a griddle and served with a generous drizzle of olive oil and chopped parsley.

Last week I saw Chef Andrew Hebert, of Trade, preparing them for a special and I filched a bunch for this post.  I had the griddle and our preserved limes in mind and and when I saw the coconut oil in our pantry, it all came together.  The condiment has a South East Asian flavor profile that I love with the clams.  I didn’t find them too spicy with the 3 peppers, but Ken did.

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47 thoughts

    • I’m pretty sure they have razor clams along the French coast, and I know–if only because of Darya’s reference–that they do show up in some restaurants, although I’ve never seen them on a menu. Let me know how it goes. Ken

    • Raw! You are a brave soul. The issue for me isn’t the rawness (other clams raw are fine). I just can’t stand the thought of something moving in my mouth while I’m eating it. Ken

  1. Delicious, luscious, voluptuous, scrumptious, scrumdiliumcious, scrumdiddlyumptious and, well, just downright toothsome!

    Quick question (or two): I noticed your photos have the copyright symbol. That is new, yes?
    The font on your name is not papyrus, but close…?

    • Hey, Jim–I started using the copyright notice about ten minutes after a Google image search showed me six different instances of one of my gnocchi images being used without any accreditation on other websites–all Italian and eastern European, by the way. I supposed I should take it as a compliment, but all of my photographer friends tell me I’m insane to post anything without a copyright now, especially since I’m working on website so potential clients can see something other than food photos. The font is Herculanum, so you’re not far off. Glad you like the clams–they are good. Ken

    • They scared me until about ten years ago, when suddenly they seemed to migrate from the Pacific Northwest, where they’d always been popular, especially among Asian immigrants, to the East. Of course there had always been populations here that ate them as well, Azorean immigrants most notably. I also ate them cooked and chopped before I jumped in whole hog. Now I wonder what all the fuss was about. There really isn’t any ick factor when they’re cooked. Ken

  2. Wow, this looks so good! I do remember your question about what one eats in clams. Your recipe is so invntive, and yet quite simple, I am trying to imagine the flavor of preserved limes along with the clams, I have no idea what they would taste like, but the association sure sounds great. And the next day farro salad also sounds delicious!

    • Thank you, Darya. Jody said that I found three peppers too much, which was true, but not because they were too hot–it was because their heat distracted from the subtler flavor and smell of the preserved lime. The farro was a lucky by-product, but the next time I make a raft of these I’ll make sure I also have farro in the pantry. By the way, speaking off topic, the farro was pearled. After lots of experiments with different versions–pearled, semi-pearled, and unpearled, I’m the unpearled is my favorite, despite the longer cooking times, because its texture is so satisfying. In a pinch I’d use the semi-pearled, but I don’t see myself buying the fully pearled again. Ken

      • Oh dear… I am afraid the French don’t even make these distinctions. We don’t really have farro (except in Italian delis, I should look at the package and see whether it is un-semi-pearled). We only have petit épeautre (einkorn) or grand épeautre (spelt), and both take ages to cook anyway (when thinking ahead of time, I soak them overnight)!

  3. This is such an inventive recipe—love it! Was it difficult cleaning these razor clams? I’ve heard that it takes a lot of work, and that there’s often a grittiness left over. Was that true for this recipe?

    • Thanks. You know, I probably ate about 20 razor clams last week. One of them had a bit–really, just a bit–of grit in it. All we did was rinse them individuall under running water and give them a close visual inspection at the same time. There’s always a chance you’ll get a “mudder,” and while the results on a grill or griddle wouldn’t be as catastrophic as if you were cooking them all together in a pan, it’s still something you’d rather not have to deal with. Also the usual rules apply, but even more so. Razor clams are feisty. If one refuses to open, even after some time on the grill, be sure to discard it. Ken

    • Thank you. They’re pretty tasty, and if you haven’t used preserved limes before this is a good introduction. Plus, your friends will think you’re a culinary genius. :-) Ken

  4. What a great recipe! Like Jody, I spent many hours on the flats digging up razor clams when I was a kid.. Never ate them until a recent trip to Venice.. Loved them.. Very baby clams grilled with olive oil and salt/pepper…
    Thanks for a great post ( the death part was a bit tough) and photos as always!!

    • Hi, BA–What juvenile sadists you and Jody were! Digging up clams and never eating them! Or is dig-and-release part of the humane sensibility of sport clamming? They are delicious–did we have them in the Veneto together (if so, I can’t believe I don’t remember) or were you on a different trip? LIttle ones must be delicious! The “death part” is why I don’t eat them raw–I don’t want to chew something that’s fighting back. Ken
      P.S. Your absence was noted at the birthday dinner.

      • Hi ken
        Sorry I missed the celebration but I made the right choice being up north to support my friend Rach. The catch and release of razor clams is because it was pure entertainment. All the quahogs , scallops and steamers weren’t so lucky!
        And for the baby razors…we weren’t on the same Veneto trip…yours was the scouting version. Maybe they have them in Sardinia…not many on the cape cod flats these days but lots of oysters! BA

  5. I remember eating razor clams as a child in China, loved their delicate flavour. Always cooked in a pot, not on a griddle, so I never witnessed their feisty deaths. I may be taking some interstate visitors to our fish markets next weekend. If so I’ll look out for razor clams.
    By the way, the preserved lemons I made using your recipe are ready, and I’m using them in an Israeli couscous dish tonight. Hoorah!

  6. Wow thank you for the detailed tale of their deaths. I do appreciate the vivid description. I remember Darya’s razor clams and have been meaning to make them, but a piece of me is still afraid. This seems to break it down well. I think It’s time for me to do the preserved limes as well. Your photos are gorgeous as usual and really break it down well. I like Jody’s childhood memories too and that she tolerates spice better than you :) So you ate every part of these? I think I have to hit up the fish store this week and do something similar.

    • Jump in the pool, Amanda–you’ll love the clams and, believe me, you’ll find a lot of uses for the preserved lime (e.g. I chopped a little over chilled beets for a lunch salad today – oh, wait, I just gave away a blog post idea). Regarding the spice, it’s not a matter of tolerance–I love really spicy food–it had to do with my concern that the force of the heat might distract people from the more nuanced experience of the preserved lime. To be honest, I was the only one concerned. The clams disappeared pretty quickly, except for the three leftovers. I did eat the whole thing. Cooked. I don’t eat these guys raw (think of it as respect for your opponent), although if you scan through the comments above you’ll see that some folks do. Thanks for stopping by. Ken

  7. Great post, Ken. I’ve only seen fresh razor clams once and I had no idea how to prepare them. I do now, thanks to you, and will be looking for them. My preserved lemons are ready, too, though I’ve not broken into the Japanese yet. I’ve got high hopes for them. :)
    Belated birthday greetings to Jody. I hope she had a wonderful day to celebrate and remember.

    • Hi, John–I’ll pass the birthday wishes on to Jody. You know, one of the things I discovered after hanging out with littleneck farmers is that when people elsewhere in the country decide to hold a “New England Clambake” they don’t do it with steamers, the traditional clam used here. Instead they have to rely on littlenecks. The latter are hardshell clams; steamers are softshells, and they often perish in shipping. I wonder if the same is true of razor clams, so that plus their somewhat intimidating appearance means that they aren’t shipped inland, except perhaps to restaurateurs who already know how to handle them. Break out those preserved lemons! Ken

  8. I have to admit to suffering a bit of squeam when I cook various unfortunate creatures. Having said that, I always look forward to your posts and just love this one. Top photos as always and lovely writing too.
    Best,
    Conor

    • Of course you do (or at least I hope you do). That the price we pay for eating these things. If you’re at all interested in such things, read Gabrielle Hamilton’s BLOOD, BONES AND BUTTER, the chef/owner of Prune restaurant in NYC. She is not only a gifted chef, but a truly stunning writer (that’s the voice of envy speaking). She has a description of her depressed teenage self trying to dispatch a chicken that is by turns horrifying and hilarious but ultimately about living with killing animals. Thanks for the kind words about the post. Ken

  9. I’ve picked up many a razor clam shell at the beach in N.C., but I don’t think (?) I’ve ever eaten them. This is such an intriguing combination of flavors. But what’s not to like? (And Hamilton’s writing is terrific. Love Prune, too.)

    • Jody and I and our kids had an excellent dinner there last Wednesday night for Jody’s birthday. Gabrielle came out to our table and it turned out we grew up in Pennsylvania not far from one another (to be fair, I grew up, then about a decade later she grew up). Anyway, very funny quick woman, and as you noted, great food. I ate more bone marrow than anyone is entitled to. Ken

  10. Hi Ken, my preserved limes are just ready. I ate them in a Thai-style salad the other day & loved them. They are indeed floral as you say. Thanks so much for the idea.

    This recipe sounds incredible. Razor clams are in season here so I am going to look for some to make this.

    • Great! I like cooking quahogs on a regular grill – but a griddle is a great way to enjoy razor clams when it’s too cold to fire up the grill outside. Try them – they love the coconut and lime. Thanks. Ken

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