One of the best things about living in San Diego, among many, is the beach. From where we live, it’s only a few minutes away. Four miles to the sand. Four miles to the Pacific Ocean. Four miles to fresh ocean breezes. Unfortunately, it’s also been 10 years since I actually dipped my feet into the ocean.
But just this past weekend, I ventured to the water again, this time for clams. Pismo clams to be exact.
Pismo clams can be found up and down the California coastline and if you know where to look, they can be dug up and incorporated into your favorite seafood dish.
Here are a few things about pismo clams:
- Harvested clams should measure 4 1/2 inches in width.
- A maximum of 10 clams per person is allowed per day.
- Clams can be harvested a half hour before sunrise or a half hour after sunset.
- The meat is tender, sweet and delicious when properly cooked.
Actually, I didn’t see the last item until writing this post (oops) because all that concerned me when planning this venture was when the tide was low — the optimum time to go hunting for clams. And on this day, low tide was at 10:05 a.m.
Everyone has their own special place to go clamming. Coronado State Beach is supposedly nice but the $10 entry fee alone is enough to buy 2 pounds of clams at any market. So instead I went near my old stomping grounds: Imperial Beach.
It’s the southernmost beach in California; just past that is Mexico. IB has cleaned up in recent years and the crowds tend to be less obnoxious than I’ve seen at Pacific Beach or Ocean Beach and less pretentious, in my opinion, than the beachgoers at La Jolla or Coronado.
According to research, clams can easily be found using a rake to scoop mounds of wet sand. But according to my coworker who often goes searching for clams, digging your heels into the sand is another effective way to find them. But from what I learned this weekend, finding groups of people with rakes at the shoreline is equally promising, especially if there’s an eager kid only interested in gathering undamaged sand dollars to help us with our mission.
A word of warning for the weak of heart: clams are alive straight from the ocean. There was no doubt about this when we were heading home and heard the clams… uh… sputtering… in the bucket. If not frozen or on ice, seafood should always be fresh. And in this case, fresh clams make amazing chowder. With a bit of cleaning to remove most traces of sand, fresh clam chowder can be finished within an hour of returning home with them.
Fresh Clam Chowder
20 medium clams in the shell
3 medium potatoes, diced
2 slices of crispy bacon, diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3-4 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups half-and-half (nonfat is fine)
1/2 tablespoon cooking sherry (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Clean clams under running water until sand is removed. Place in a pan with 2 cups of water. Cover and cook for approximately 5 minutes until shells open. Discard any unopen clams. Using a coffee filter, strain cooking liquid and reserve. Pull clams from shells and cut into small pieces. Run clam pieces under running water to remove more sand if necessary.
Place potatoes and bacon in a large saucepan and cover with clam broth. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender.
In a large pan, melt butter over low heat. Add flour one tablespoon at a time until blended. Add milk a half a cup at a time, stirring constantly until sauce has thickened. Add sherry.
Add clams and potatoes into the sauce. Slowly add clam juice to milk mixture until desired consistency is reached. Heat until boiling and remove.
Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.