Got Geoduck? An Epic Clam Dig On The Olympic Peninsula

geoduck clamIt’s a drizzly late March morning at Hood Canal, a fjord-like arm of Washington State’s Puget Sound two hours west of Seattle. The air is briny and pungent. Douglas-fir trees and fog-shrouded inlets dot the shoreline. Bald eagles soar overhead while dozens of harbor seals bob in the water.

Armed with a shovel, a hand trowel and a five-gallon bucket, I’m attired in hip waders and neoprene. I slosh through the shallow water — stumbling over oyster shells, tufts of eel grass and starfish — searching for telltale, two-inch, oval holes in the sand from which the tip of a mollusk siphon may protrude (a visual cue known as a “show”).

The elusive creature I seek is Panopea generosa (a Latin name that will seem far more hilarious when you check out the gallery below), the geoduck clam. At first glance, the geoduck is unarguably, hideously, phallic — there’s no polite way…ahem….around it.

Possessed of a leathery neck, or siphon, that stretches up to three feet in length, the world’s largest burrowing clam tends to freak Americans out. In Asia, it’s revered as a delicacy and aphrodisiac, yet it’s native to the waters of the Pacific Northwestern U.S.

[Photo credits: Langdon Cook]

%Gallery-151127%geoduck clamI, too, found geoduck disturbing, until I moved to Seattle, and found a small pile of it on my plate while dining at Spring Hill, award-winning chef Mark Fuller’s restaurant (recently rechristened Ma’ono). Dressed with a tart lemon peel relish, the meat was slightly sweet and briny, with a subtle, satisfying crunch. Fuller loves geoduck for its ease of preparation, and “mild, clean flavor and snappy texture.” He prefers to serve it raw, with some citrus, olive oil and a bit of coarse sea salt. The “king” clam is also used as sashimi, sautéed or hot-smoked.

Seattle forager, author (Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21th Century Forager, Skipstone Press), food blogger, and back-to-the-land Renaissance man Langdon Cook prefers geoduck in an Asian-inspired ceviche, marinated with lime juice, a touch of fish sauce and brown sugar, and diced red onion, Serrano chile and shredded, green (unripe) papaya or mango.

Since I love tracing food to its source, I asked Lang to take me ‘duck hunting. After catching the ferry to Bainbridge Island, we drove to the eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula; Hood Canal has a number of state parks with wild geoduck. While not seasonal, March is when mandatory harvest licenses are issued; you can obtain them here through the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. Low tides in July and August are ideal for geoduck harvest, because it stays light late, and the weather is at its best.

At Dosewallips Tide Flat (part of a lovely state park), we discovered the water higher than anticipated, but fortunately, we had Taylor Shellfish Farms manager John Adams to provide his considerable expertise. Instead of digging in sand, we’d be shoveling against the clock in heavy, sticky substrate. Despite this setback and even in drizzling rain, the aesthetics were spellbinding.
geoduck clam
When I finally spotted a show, after much difficulty and with the help of my geoduck-senseis, we laboriously dug a three-foot-deep pit adjacent to the clam in the gloppy, shell-laden substrate. Since it was my story, I had the glory of actually winnowing the recalcitrant little bastard out of its burrow.

Immersed to the shoulder, sodden and stinking of tidal effluence, I finally manage to extract the clam. I triumphantly fist-pumped my three-pound prize in the air, while its leathery siphon drooped to the side like a dehydrated tongue. We capped off the day by collecting a bucket of littleneck clams from the beach, and then Lang took me to his home in Seattle for a tutorial on removing the “gut ball” from a geoduck. Unsurprisingly, gut ball soup is also a delicacy in Asia, but I can safely say this particular food trend won’t be catching on in mainstream America. You can quote me on that.

I went home with my siphon (I generously left Lang with the shell and gut ball; he did, after all, do most of the digging), and made sashimi. You know what? It tasted damn good. So did the clam linguine that followed.

Puget Sound’s Taylor Shellfish, a fifth-generation, sustainable mariculture farm, is the world’s largest producer of farmed geoduck. They’re sold live at Taylor’s retail shop in Capitol Hill in Seattle or online, $24.95 per pound (minimum two pounds). To order, click here. The site also features a video on how to clean and prepare geoduck.

Whole Foods To Ban Sale Of Unsustainable Seafood: The Global Impact

sustainable seafoodIn a landmark move, Whole Foods has just announced that starting on April 22 — Earth Day — it will no longer sell seafood from depleted or otherwise unsustainable fisheries, or species harvested with ecologically damaging methods such as trawling. The industry ratings for these species are determined by the Blue Ocean Institute and California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium, which produces a popular “Seafood Watch Recommendations” pocket guide and phone app for shoppers. Say bye-bye to Atlantic halibut, skate, octopus and sole.

It’s a bold move for the world’s largest, most powerful green grocery chain to defer customer demand for better buying practices, but according to Whole Foods’ seafood quality standards coordinator Carrie Brownstein via an AP article, “In the long term, what we’re really looking to do is help reverse trends of overfishing and by-catch, so that really we can move the industry as a whole toward greater sustainability.”

So how does what you eat here at home have a global impact? Depletion of any fishery always has a negative effect on the food chain because of a ripple effect. Foreign fisheries may also employ unsound fishing methods that increase by-catch (think dolphins and other aquatic species, albatross, etc.). You may love Chilean sea bass (it’s actually Patagonian toothfish) but it has long been a fishery on the verge of collapse and by purchasing it at the store or ordering it at a restaurant, you create demand for that product. Once a species is extinct, it can seriously throw a marine ecosystem out of whack. Plus, you know, extinction kind of sucks.

It’s harder for world travelers to be on top of what’s sustainable and what’s not, especially if, like me, you love street food. In developing nations, especially countries with a coastline, fishing is usually a key part of the local economy. But saving our rapidly depleting oceans trumps putting a few pennies in local pockets: they’re not looking at the big picture, which is the more seafood we consume, the less there is to sell.

Order something besides seafood unless you’re positive it’s caught in a non-environmentally degrading way, from a healthy fishery. Go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Recommendations site for a global guide to what’s sustainable and what’s not. It offers alternatives, so odds are, you can travel and have your lobster dinner, too.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Eneas]

Cheese festival season has sprung: the best in the West

sheep cheese Spring, as they say, has sprung. In farmstead and artisan cheese parlance, that means pastures are currently abound with calves, lambs, and kids (of the goat variety), and the first milk of the season is in. That’s why March is the kickoff month for cheese festivals, especially on the West Coast because of its more mild climate. The following just happen to be some of the nation’s best.

8th Annual Oregon Cheese Festival, March 17
Hosted by the Oregon Cheese Guild and Rogue Creamery, this much-loved event features dozens of cheese, beer, and wine makers. General admission is minimal, the sampling is free, and the vibe is laid-back. The festival is held at Rogue Creamery in Central Point, just outside of Ashland in southern Oregon. It possesses the vibe of a giant farmers market, with all of the vendors gathered beneath a giant tent. Events include a “Meet the Cheesemakers” dinner (held the night before), seminars, and tastings, including chocolate and cider.California Artisan Cheese Festival (CACF), March 24-25
What better place for a California cheese festival than wine country? CACF is held every March in Petaluma (located in Sonoma County, about 40 minutes north of San Francisco) and draws over 2,000 attendees who come to taste cheeses from the West Coast, Pacific Northwest, and Rockies. Sign up now to get in on local creamery tours, special lunches, and educational seminars.

On April 7, the inaugural Washington Artisan Cheesemakers Festival will take place in Seattle. In addition to cheesemakers from across the state, expect Washington food artisans, craft beer and cider producers, and winemakers. The event is a benefit for the Cascade Harvest Coalition, a non-profit dedicated to local food security.

Can’t make the festival circuit? Try taking a class at The Cheese School of San Francisco, which is focused solely on classes and tasting events for professionals and caseophiles alike. With an ongoing curriculum of classes taught by industry professionals, offerings may include everything from “Mozzarella Making” and “Craft Brews & Artisan Beers,” to “Sheep & Syrah” and “Springtime Cheeses and Loire Valley Wines.” This is the place geek out on dairy.

Admittedly, this video isn’t from a cheesemaker in the western U.S.; it comes from renown Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. But it’s an excellent short clip on how cheese goes from cow to cheese case. Should you be fortunate enough to find Harbison at your local cheese shop, I strongly recommend you pounce upon it, because it’s simply dreamy.



[Photo credit: Kate Arding]

New Orleans Roadfood Festival rolls in March 24-25

new orleans foodThat New Orleans is a food town is no secret. What I just discovered, however, is that it’s host to a food festival spawned by one of my favorite pastimes ever: road food (and no, I’m not referring to this kind). Way back in the day, when I was a wee college student, I discovered the late, great Gourmet magazine, and became obsessed with “Roadfood,” a column (now a website) written by the road-trippin’, big-eatin’ couple Jane and Michael Stern.

In every issue, the Sterns would choose a micro-region of the U.S. and a local specialty on which to focus their column. Each month, I read about chicken and dumplings in Indiana, pasties from Montana, green chile from El Rito, New Mexico, or barbecue from Owensboro, Kentucky. Then I’d wipe the drool off of the pages and stash each article away in a manila folder to be saved for future road trips, both real and imagined.

Apparently, nearly half a decade ago, while I was lost in some “best roadside diner biscuit” reverie, the Sterns helped create the New Orleans Roadfood Festival. The 4th annual food fiesta will be held March 24-25 in the city’s historic French Market. It will provide a showcase for over 30 restaurants across the country, which will serve the dishes that made them famous. Attendees will be able to street-feast upon Texas and Memphis barbecue, Tucson’s best tamales, custard from upstate New York, Cajun and Creole delicacies from across Louisiana, and many other regional culinary specialties. There will also be cooking demos, live music, a beignet-eating contest for the N.O. Fire Department, and a kickoff party featuring the Sterns, local chefs, and noted cookbook author Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

And get this: admission to the festival is free. You’ll still have to pay for those good eats, but a portion of the proceeds will benefit Cafe Reconcile, a non-profit restaurant that uses innovative strategies to provide life skills and job training to youth from at-risk communities in area. Just in case you need a guilt-free reason to indulge. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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[Photo credit: Flickr user Adam Melancon]

New BBC America cooking show combines travel and adventure

It was only a matter of time before all the eating of rats and scorpions on “Survivor” grew tiresome. Perhaps that’s why producer Kevin Greene and “Chopped” producer Chachi Senior created a new cooking series for BBC America that combines exotic locales with dodgy outdoor adventures. There’s just one little catch: there’s no kitchen.

No Kitchen Required” takes 2008 Food & Wine “Best New Chef” Michael Psilakis of New York’s FISHTAG and Kefi, private executive chef Kayne Raymond (aka the resident beefcake), and former “Chopped” champ Madison Cowan, and drops them into ten remote locations to perform some serious hunting and gathering.

After being plunked down in Dominica; Belize; New Zealand; Fiji; Thailand; Hawaii; New Mexico; Louisiana, and Florida, each chef is handed a knife (“Pack your knives and go,” is not a sentence you’ll hear uttered on this series) and a few key ingredients. They’re then left to fish, hunt, forage, and otherwise scrounge up the remaining ingredients to “create a locally-inspired meal that will be judged by the community.”

Despite the gimmicky and somewhat contrived nature of the challenges, there’s a lot to love about this show. It’s fun, innovative, and despite my raging addiction to “Top Chef,” I’m happy to see a cooking show that finally requires the use of local/seasonal ingredients (let’s hope there’s no blow-darting of endangered monkeys or serving of shark fin). Weaving the regional and cultural element into the concept is genius. Braised nutria, anyone?

The series premieres April 3rd.

[Photo credit: © Gilles Mingasson for BBC AMERICA]