The razor clam is one of Britain’s most prized of shellfish and it’s becoming more and more available in the country, yet they only seem to be found in exclusive markets. A huge amount of the catch in British waters is sent to Europe, where this fantastic mollusc is highly regarded.
But… how is a razor clam?
Also known as razor fish and razor shell, these clams are pale brown bivalves with long thin shells which resemble a straight razor. These coastal treats are exceptionally meaty with a sweet flavour between squid and scallop.
Razor clams are found buried in the sand all around the British coasts, except on the east coast of England and the north coast of Devon and Cornwall.
There are four native species: Ensis Ensis and Solen Marginatus being the smallest as large as 12cm; Ensis Arcuatus, 15cm and the most profitable and Ensis Siliqua, reaching 20 cm. The differences between them are very superficial and that doesn’t matter too much, as all of them have similar flavours.
They are found in sheltered sandy or gravelly bays and estuaries. The best time to catch them is in low-tide mark and below, as they show up just beneath the sand and they are easily dug up with the hand.
Razor clams are available for most of the year and they are likely to be at their best in the colder months, as sea conditions let them getting more than enough food. Spawning season is happening in the warmest months, what changes their flavour and texture.
They are commercially harvested by hydraulic dredging but a more traditional approach is hand-picking. Some people do it for fun, pouring a small amount of salt in clam holes on the beach, making them rising up. The minimum commercial landing size for all species is 10cm.
Buying and storage
When buying razor clams, freshness is always important. Make sure they are alive checking that they extend themselves out of their shells and are retracted when picked up. They should smell of the seaside, but not strongly fishy. Razor clams can also be bought pre-cleaned and shelled, but this will sacrifice freshness and flavour.
It is always best to use razor clams the same day of purchase, but they can be stored for a couple of days in the fridge by wrapping them in a damp tea towel into the fridge.
Before cooking, rinse them with cold water and wash away any loose particles. Discard any that have opened but do not close when manipulated.
Place them on a baking tray and grill or alternatively cook them in a covered pan with a small amount of wine for a couple of minutes and the shells would open. Remove the long white flesh and discard the black bits, as this will be the digestive track, which will still contain grit.
Once they are clean and ready to use, the razor clams will be returned to the grill, either shelled or in the shell and only two minutes more will be enough to cook them thoroughly, as they may become rubbery. They are cooked when the meat loses the translucent appearance.
Razor clams can be cooked in several ways as regular clams, including grilling, boiling, baking and steaming. They are even eaten raw with lemon juice in the Orkneys and due to their robust flavor they suit simple seasoning and the best way to serve them is plainly grilled in their shells with butter and garlic with a citrus wedge.
Classic grilled recipes call for accompaniments like salsa verde, gremolata, aioli, pickled cucumber and mayonnaise and are good seasoned with garlic, chili and saffron.
They are ideal in clam chowder and other soups using tomato, garlic, chili and a drop of olive oil. Try steaming them open in a covered pan in a marinière style sauce with white wine or cider.