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.
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 on the Griddle
with Coconut Oil and Preserved Lime
- 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
- Rinse the clams under cold running water to remove any sand.
- 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.
- 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.
- Reheat the sauce, add the garum and basil and spoon over the clams.
- Serve immediately.
- 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.
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.