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It was not quite sunrise, but close enough. As the moon took its leave, it tugged the tide and pulled us from our sleep—it was time for clamming with Aunt Christina. With groggy anticipation, my mother, father, brother, sister, and I fumbled to get dressed and set out into the silent morning. Through the dawn, we watched the sea fog hug the Washington coast with a sleepy embrace that would lift by daylight.
Our morning expeditions took us to the ocean side of the Long Beach Peninsula. This sliver of land, located in the southwest corner of Washington state, hosts a procession of small towns, including Ocean Park, Nahcotta, and Oysterville. To the east lies Willapa Bay, which runs north along the peninsula until it meets the ocean at Leadbetter Point.
As a boy of two, armed with a bucket and shovel, I dug into the cold sand with visions of buried treasures left by bands of pirates. Meanwhile, my family hunted for treasures of their own: razor clams for that evening's dinner.
At the age of eighty-five, Aunt Christina was by far the fastest clam digger anyone had ever seen. During low tide, she'd be out in the breaking waves watching for air bubbles, the betrayers of hiding clams. Spotting the bubbles, she'd make a clean scoop in the wet sand. The long, thin blade of her shovel ensured victory over the clams' attempts to dive deeper. As the tide began to rise, she continued her pursuit on drier land, where her shovel moved faster, or the clams a little slower.
Myhistory with Oysterville dates back to 1864, when my great-great-grandfather, Meinert Wachsmuth, arrived from San Francisco on the sailing ship Sarah Louise. The township, established in 1854 along Shoalwater Bay, had become a well-known supplier of oysters on the West Coast. By the time Meinert arrived, the community had grown to a population of five hundred and was in full swing, with three hotels, three saloons, boat shops, blacksmith stables, general stores, a tannery, a school, and a church.
Oysterville is the northernmost town on the peninsula. Part of its charm is that it hasn't changed much over the past century. White picket fences surround the older homes, and inside, collections of old bottles stand on crooked windowsills creating a kaleidoscope of color in the summer light. Salal berries, salmon berries, azaleas, and wild coast blackberries line the streets of town. Batches of blueberries and raspberries abound in the summer months behind my cousin Tucker's cabin, offering a morning meal to be picked and eaten with nothing more than a splash of cream and a dusting of sugar. Merchant Street and Clay Street are only grassy paths now, lazy reminders of the once-bustling thoroughfares that led to the bay.
The locals derived the name Shoalwater Bay from the nautical term shoal, which refers to a shallow place in a body of water. Today, the area is commonly referred to as Willapa Bay among nonnatives, and its saltwater estuary still produces large numbers of commercially grown oysters, mussels, and clams.
For my family, Oysterville is a beloved place that offers a common ground and comforting memories. The only piece of property that I truly own in this world is in this place: a one-thousand-square-foot plot of mud with a bed of hard-shell littleneck clams hiding beneath it. Part of the area's allure is its tranquillity, which seems to cast a calming spell on each of its visitors. Just wander barefoot into the pools of the bay, and you'll immediately feel the warmth of the water. Kneel down in the mud and use your hand to follow the bubble holes like the ones Aunt Christina found so easily with her trusty shovel. The only sound you will hear is the suck of the mud pulling up with a clam when you claim it as your own.
The unique old-fashioned quality of Oysterville inspired me at a young age to appreciate the gathering of food in its natural habitat. Finding, capturing, and bringing home wild salmon, razor clams, wild berries, oysters, or Dungeness crab were daily rituals in my family's history in this area for over one hundred years. These activities were carried out with a tremendous respect for ingredients and the natural habitat from which they came.
On summer evenings in Oysterville, the winds die down, creating a wonderful stillness. The fading light sinks into the bay and the cool air settles in for the night. Imagine yourself sitting by an open fire in Oysterville on a still evening with the distant sound of the Pacific Ocean on the western side of the peninsula and the stillness of Willapa Bay on the eastern side. The evening sun is casting light on the old houses, and you can hear the sound of oysters popping open over the hot coals of an open fire, reminding you that the simple act of eating the mollusks that this township was named after is an act of preserving tradition.
Panfried Razor Clams with Bread Crumbs, Herbs, and Lemon ~ SERVES 6 AS AN APPETIZER
Most of the razor clams that you find in stores or fish markets are already shelled, cleaned, and packaged. These clams come from Washington or Alaska and have likely been frozen due to their high perishability. Razor clams by nature are slightly chewy or tough and may need to be tenderized. At Wildwood, we use two methods to tenderize them. One is to place them between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound them lightly with the back of a knife or a meat tenderizer before breading them. The second method, which involves soaking the clams in buttermilk, is used in the following recipes. The buttermilk has an enzyme that assists in tenderizing the clams and also works as the liquid to allow the bread crumbs to adhere to the clams.
2 cups buttermilk
12 razor clams, scrubbed, cleaned, and split
1½ cups finely ground fresh bread crumbs (about 3 slices thick sourdough or Italian bread, crust removed, ground in a food processor)
1 teaspoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon minced fresh chives
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
About 8 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lemon, halved
Pour the buttermilk into a shallow pan and place the razor clams in the buttermilk to soak for 3 hours.
Remove the clams from the buttermilk and drain for 5 minutes. In a shallow bowl, combine the crumbs, parsley, tarragon, chives, salt, and pepper. Dip a clam into the bread-crumb mixture and coat thoroughly on both sides. Place the clam on a wire rack to allow the coating to set, about 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining clams.
In a 12-inch skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Put 3 clams in the skillet. Cook for about 20 seconds, or until they begin to brown, then turn and cook on the other side for 20 seconds, or until the edges of the clams begin to curl up. It is important to cook the clams quickly so that they do not become tough. Place the cooked clams on a serving plate and keep warm in a low oven. Repeat the process with the remaining clams, adding more oil as necessary.
Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the clams and serve immediately.
Clam Cakes with Tarragon, Green Peppers, and Tartar Sauce ~ SERVES 6 AS AN APPETIZER OR LUNCH ENTRÉE
In Willapa Bay, clams are harvested into wire nets that are then suspended in the bay to help rinse out the sand. I like to keep clams in their native saltwater until I am ready to cook them, then use some of the water to steam the clams open, often adding a few aromatics such as carrots, onions, garlic, celery, bay leaf, and peppercorns.
There are many ways to prepare the littleneck clam. Clam cakes are a classic in many regions of the country. Here is my rendition, which includes tartar sauce for dipping.
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon capers, drained and chopped
1 teaspoon chopped cornichon or dill pickle
1 anchovy fillet, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
2 pounds littleneck clams in their shells, scrubbed, or one 12-ounce jar chopped clams with juice
½ cup water, if using fresh clams
1 small yellow onion, coarsely grated
½ cup chopped green bell pepper
2 teaspoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup semolina flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
2 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
About ¼ cup vegetable oil
To make the tartar sauce: In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir to blend. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. This sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead.
To make the clam cakes: If using clams in their shells, combine the clams and water in a large skillet. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, then cover. Steam for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the shells open. Discard any clams that do not open. Remove from heat and let the clams cool in their shells. Take the meat out of the shells. Strain the clam juice, reserving ¾ cup. Coarsely chop the clam meat. This will produce approximately 1¼ cups of chopped meat. If using jarred clams, drain well, reserving ¾ cup of the juice.
In a medium bowl, combine the chopped clams, onion, bell pepper, parsley, and tarragon; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, semolina flour, baking powder, cayenne pepper, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, reserved or bottled clam juice, egg yolks, melted butter, and lemon juice. Stir the liquid ingredients and clam mixture into the dry ingredients to form a batter; set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff, glossy peaks form. Fold them into the batter. Let the batter stand for 15 minutes.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of the oil over medium heat. Spoon in about 3 tablespoons of the batter for each clam cake (about 4 per batch). Cook, turning once, until lightly browned on each side, about 3 minutes total. Place the cakes on a plate in a low oven to keep warm. Repeat the process, adding more oil as needed, until all the batter is used. Serve hot with the tartar sauce.
Wood-Roasted Clams with Saffron, Tomato, Garlic, and Grilled Bread ~ SERVES 4 AS AN APPETIZER OR LUNCH ENTRÉE
Cooking over a wood fire frees You from the complexities of the kitchen, with all of its gadgets and devices, and inspires simplicity, allowing you to focus on the natural flavors of the food. In experimenting with open-hearth cooking, whether indoors or outside, remember that temperature and timing are crucial. Plan to burn the wood for 1 to 2 hours beforehand to ensure a hot bed of coals. Alder, cherry, apple, and fir are common woods used in the Pacific Northwest. When the fire is ready, set a metal grate strong enough to support a large pot or skillet in place 8 to 12 inches above the coals. The grate also acts as an excellent grill for large cut pieces of vegetables such as peppers, onions, corn, or squash.
One of my favorite recipes for clams includes saffron, garlic, and tomatoes. Although this recipe is prepared in the wood-burning brick oven at the restaurant, a conventional outdoor grill works well, with wood chips added to the coals. The juice from the clams mixes with the oil and vinegar, creating a rich-flavored broth that is an excellent dipping sauce for a crusty piece of bread. Mussels also work well in this recipe. Use the same amount, but reduce the cooking time to 3 to 4 minutes.
½ cup Chardonnay vinegar or other white wine vinegar
6 to 7 saffron threads
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 pounds littleneck clams in their shells, scrubbed
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved, or ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Four ½-inch-thick slices hard-crusted country bread, toasted and rubbed with garlic, for serving
To make the vinaigrette: In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine the vinegar and saffron threads. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and let cool. Whisk in the oils, salt, and pepper; set aside.
To make the clams: Using mesquite or other wood chips, prepare a very hot grill. (The temperature should be at 600° to 700°, very hot for a quick cooking time.) For added smoky flavor, cover the grill. Put the clams in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet. Add the tomatoes, shallots, and garlic. Pour the vinaigrette over the clams and vegetables. Cover the skillet, place on the grill, and cover the grill. Cook the clams for 5 to 6 minutes. Uncover the grill and skillet and continue to cook the clams until they open, transferring them as they do to a covered container to keep warm. Discard any clams that do not open during the cooking process. Add the lemon juice to the vinaigrette and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the parsley.
Divide the clams among 4 bowls and pour the hot vinaigrette over them. Serve with the toasted bread.
Potato and Clam Soup with Sour Cream, Thyme, and Garlic Croutons ~ SERVES 8
Chowder is perhaps the most popular soup preparation for clams. This incorporates some of the standard ingredients into a purée using potato as a thickener. I use water instead of the traditional fish stock, which allows the excess juice from the clams to provide the shellfish flavor and the natural flavors of the vegetables to come through. A dollop of sour cream adds finish to the flavor, and a little chopped cooked bacon mixed with the croutons and thyme makes a tasty garnish.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups ½-inch-cubed country bread
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
POTATO AND CLAM SOUP
2 tablespoons butter
2 white onions, chopped
2 leeks (white part only), washed and chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 cups Sauvignon Blanc wine
6 cups water
3 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
10 drops red pepper sauce
3 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Sour cream and minced fresh thyme for garnish
To make the croutons: Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the garlic for 3 minutes, or until translucent; do not brown. Add the bread cubes, tossing to coat. Place them on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside.
To make the soup: In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, leeks, fennel, celery, salt, and pepper. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook the vegetables for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Mix in the white wine, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in 5 cups of the water and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes, thyme, and red pepper sauce; reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Let cool slightly. Purée in a food processor until smooth; set aside.
In a large skillet, combine the clams and the remaining 1 cup of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and steam for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the shells open. Discard any clams that do not open after 8 minutes of cooking. Remove from heat and let the clams cool in their shells. Take the clam meat out of the shells, allowing the clam juice to drip back into the skillet. Strain the clam juice and reserve it.
In a large pot, heat the vegetable purée. Stir in the reserved clam juice, clams, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, ladle the chowder into soup bowls. Garnish with the sour cream, thyme, and garlic croutons.
Apple Cider—Cured Smoked Salmon ~ SERVES 4 AS AN ENTRÉE
At Wildwood, we often use a tandoor, or clay oven, to roast meats, poultry, and fish. The foods are skewered and roasted over mesquite charcoal, infusing them with a light smoke flavor even in the relatively short ten- to fifteen-minute cooking time. The tandoor cools overnight, and in the morning, a bed of coals remains, creating an excellent heat source for smoking. A wire rack is placed over the opening to the oven, which is about two feet above the fire, and salmon is smoked for approximately fifteen minutes.
Before I smoke meats and fish, I often cure them in a liquid brine or a dry cure of salt and sugar. I prefer a liquid brine since it moistens the meat or fish, while the latter absorbs the aromatics from the brine and cures in the liquid. Using apple cider as the liquid produces a slightly sweet smoked salmon that takes on a mahogany tone from the amber juice. This brine can also be used for trout, chicken, or pork.
The smoked salmon recipe that follows has been adapted for an outdoor grill. Large center-cut portions of salmon are ideal for this preparation; if you use smaller pieces, reduce the cooking time accordingly. Serve the salmon with roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach, or cool and flake into a salad or sandwich.
APPLE CIDER BRINE
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup salt
4 cups apple cider or juice
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 sprigs thyme or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 large center-cut salmon fillets (about 1 pound each), skin and pin bones removed
A small all bundle of wood chips or chunks, such as alder, pine, cherry, apple, or fir, soaked in water for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.
To make the brine: In a saucepan, combine the brown sugar, salt, and apple juice and bring to a boil. Add the remaining brine ingredients, remove from the heat, and cool. This brine can be made 2 to 3 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator.
Submerge the salmon fillets in the liquid brine for at least 6 hours, or overnight. Remove the salmon from the brine and place, uncovered, on a wire rack set in a sheet pan. Refrigerate the fillets for at least 6 hours, or overnight, to dry them out. (A dry fillet will take on smoke quicker than a moist fillet.)
To smoke the salmon: In an outdoor grill, make a small fire using mesquite charcoal or briquettes. Once the fire has burned down to a hot bed of coals, after about 1 hour, place the soaked wood on the coals. Position the grate 8 to 12 inches above the smoking wood and place the salmon fillets on the grate. Cover the grill and shut any open air vents. After 5 minutes, check the heat of the grill; large fillets will be cooked and smoked through in approximately 30 minutes if the heat is low, about 300° to 350°, while a hotter fire will cook the fillets in 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve the salmon hot off the grill.
Herbed Salmon Baked on Rock Salt, with Red Onion—Caper Vinaigrette ~ SERVES 8 AS AN ENTRÉE
When a salmon fillet is properly cooked, you'll find that it flakes off of the skin with relative ease. Baking the fish on rock salt tempers and distributes the heat, resulting in moist, evenly cooked flesh. The red onion vinaigrette adds a light, yet pungent flavor to the salmon, or you can serve the salmon with the tartar sauce on page 7. Any leftover fish can be flaked into salads, soups, or made into salmon cakes.
RED ONION-CAPER VINAIGRETTE
1 cup olive oil
¼ cup sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons capers, drained
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 pounds salmon fillet, pin bones removed, with skin intact
2 tablespoons mixed minced fresh herbs such as tarragon, basil, flat-leaf parsley, and thyme
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, cracked (page 224)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Rock or kosher salt for lining pan
To prepare the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, and mustard. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. The vinaigrette can be made up to 2 days ahead.
To prepare the salmon: Rub the fillet with the minced herbs and fennel seeds. Season with salt and pepper. At this point, the salmon can be covered and refrigerated overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325°. Cover a large jelly-roll or roasting pan with aluminum foil. Pour the rock or kosher salt into the pan, covering its surface. Place the salmon, skin side down, on the salt. Bake in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until opaque on the outside and slightly translucent in the center. This method of cooking allows the salmon to cook through without becoming dry. Remove from the oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let stand for 5 minutes (the salmon will continue to cook).
To serve, use a wide spatula to remove the salmon from the salt. Remove the skin and portion the salmon onto plates. Spoon some of the red onion—caper vinaigrette over each portion and serve.
CHEF'S NOTE: Though the salt on which the salmon is baked will absorb juices from the fish, there's no reason to throw it out. Instead, set it aside for use the next time you prepare this dish, or one similar to it.
Posted August 15, 2002
...with humble elegance. As a Portland, OR native I've been to the author's restaurant and have been lucky enough to sample his expertise first hand. The cookbook is a great way to reproduce your favorites for family and friends. It is also a great read, Cory writes with feeling about the history of his family and the northwest. His recipes are great, he teaches you how to bring out the best in each food, which has lead me to creating my own concoctions. He is a credit to Northwest cooking, and an all around genuine article.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.