Foraging for Food: Clams

As mentioned in the mussels post, I love the rewarding experience of finding your own food, and shellfish are an easy target.  Last September I went clamming for the first time in Little Egg Harbor on the bayside of Long Beach Island, NJ.  I was immediately hooked.

I was so desperate to go clamming again that I tried again in late April of this year during a “heat wave” that brought temperatures all the way up to 68 degrees.

The wind was absurd and I couldn't feel my legs but I still got 80 clams in about an hour (not shown: two freezing MBA students and a sig other wrapped in blankets and begging me to leave)

The water was freezing and my companions refused to exit the boat, but the expedition was fruitful and I couldn’t wait to go again once it was warmer.  This post is about that eventual trip.

We spent the Fourth of July with friends from college in the Harvey Cedars area of Long Beach Island.  I spent the weeks leading up to the trip babbling incessantly about clamming and generally making everyone look into other options for how to spend their fourth.  Despite my annoying aggressiveness, everyone agreed to join the clamming trip and planned for Saturday morning.

Normally the best time time to head out for clamming is one or two hours before low tide.  This allows you to have a few hours of clamming at the shallowest tide-level possible.  Low tide was unfortunately at 8:45 AM, and even though we are eight years out of college, that just wasn’t going to happen.  We decided to shoot to leave the house at 8:30 for the half hour ride to the dock.

At around 7:30 I started anxiously pacing around the house. 7:45 I started passive aggressively asking people when they would be ready to leave. By 8:15 I started to throw a tantrum.  I was put into time out in the passenger seat of the car at 8:30 when the first group headed out.

After meeting up with my brother and a bunch of our mutual friends in Beach Haven we all walked over to Pollys boat dock at around 9:30.

The laundry basket is an essential part of clamming

We ended up piling the 16 of us into three boats for the ten minute ride out to the clamming grounds.

You know you are way too excited for a 30 year old when you break out the old double thumbs up.

And we're off!

The type of clamming we were doing, mucking (more on that later), is easiest when done in very shallow water.  Because of that, eventually the props start hitting bottom and the boats need to be pulled in for the final stretch.

I, inexplicably, really enjoy this part. It takes ten minutes or so and it's tiring but it was a beautiful day and the water was warm

The toughest part of the walk in is that you are stepping on tons of clams but every time I bent over to grab one, the momentum of the extremely heavy boat would slam it into me. Most intelligent adults would have learned their lesson after the first time but I tried at least ten times.

I was pretending I wasn't really winded at this point, but at least we were at the grounds

Once we got there and got settled (i.e. opened our first beers) I started to explain how clam mucking works.  It’s pretty simple; you walk around barefoot and when you step on something hard its a clam, so you dig it up with your hand and put it in the basket.

Given how much I like to talk, I probably took 5 minutes to explain what came after the semicolon in the sentence above. Hence people starting to walk away out of boredom

We started out a little slow but the clams pile up quick.

The laundry basket is perfect for clamming because the clams can be contained while staying in the water

One of the best parts of clamming, for those adventurous enough to try it, is opening up a few clams along the way and eating them raw.  I made a cocktail sauce the night before from ketchup, spicy horseradish and lots of lemon juice to compliment the clams.

Showing how to open a clam, note the cocktail sauce in the ketchup bottle under my arm

Dupee, Jason, and John particularly enjoyed the raw clams and spent a lot of the day in this huddled formation opening and eating them. Tim and Eliza used the Master Blaster (little Mad Max reference) method for finding clams.

In about an hour the basket was about halfway full.

This photo could be from any clamming trip; I will always have that look on my face that says I want to get more

You are probably thinking that this narcissistic photo is completely irrelevant and unnecessary, but it's my blog and it makes me feel better about my doughy self.

Not much effort is required for clamming, mostly it’s just enjoying a nice day with friends and hanging out on the water.

Nice pic of Master Blaster and Jill

Macey was a trooper, and even provided a perfect soundtrack for the Jersey Shore with her rendition of Bad Romance

We ended up with around 400 clams after a few hours.  A great haul of fresh shellfish.

The almost full basket was a great way to get a fresh hernia, we got some more after this but had to empty half of it into a cooler before loading the basket in the boat

Special thanks to Erin for all of the great fotos (and Liz for her shot as well).  I would have ruined my camera if I attempted to document this myself

Next post will have some close-ups of the scrubbed clams and some of the many dishes we turned them into.  Can’t wait to go again in August.