(Serves 2 – Recipe courtesy of Xinh Dwelley, formerly Xinh’s Clam and Oyster House)
I motored up to Shelton, Washington one fine June day a few years back to visit Taylor Shellfish Farms, and to gain a better understanding of this huge clam called the geoduck. Taylor Shellfish Farms has become a large, industrial operation along the shores of Puget Sound, employing over 700 workers, and cultivating thousands of acres of tidelands, farming oysters and clams and their prize geoducks. But they still operate a tiny seafood counter that never lost its genuine mom-and-pop feel. After my tour of the plant, I headed to the seafood counter, as I was eager to see what they had on display, maybe even sample a half-dozen of their fresh oysters. There were two steaming pots of chowder off to the side, one geoduck, the other oyster. As I was mulling over their menu, a short, stout, merry faced lady emerged from the back.
I was introduced to Xinh Dwelley, a prominent chef in Shelton who ran a clam and oyster eatery owned by Taylor Shellfish Farms. Xinh is no stranger to food journalists, I discovered, regardless of medium: she’s been featured in countless local newspapers, magazines, radio programs and even appeared alongside Mike Rowe on his TV series Dirty Jobs. During that episode, Taylor Shellfish staff taught Mr. Rowe to harvest geoduck clams from the tidelands, and Xinh showed him how to clean them.
Xinh was very polite, but obviously quite busy that day, and she seemed focused on something else. We exchanged hellos, and I explained briefly why I was visiting from California, and that I was really intrigued with geoduck. She suddenly turned to me said, “Wait right here.”
She disappeared in the back and after a few minutes emerged with a gorgeous dish: a geoduck ceviche with Thai influences—peanuts, chilis, garlic, lime and julienned carrots, garnished with a fresh sprig of mint. I was speechless. We spoke for all of thirty seconds, and I know my presence was a disruption in Xinh’s busy day. But Xinh is a wonderful, gracious person, eager to spread the joy of the geoduck.
When you’re as familiar with geoducks as Xinh is, you will be able to prepare this ceviche in about fifteen minutes. But it won’t take much longer for the novice; skinning and cleaning these clams isn’t nearly as intensive as it is for other fish.
Once, in Seattle, I had a fabulous geoduck crudo, and Xinh’s simple geoduck sashimi is delightful. But I love this raw geoduck dish best because of the creative Thai spin. Limes, sesame, peanuts, chilis, garlic, fish sauce—ingredients that form the foundational flavors of pad thai work equally well with raw geoduck. Maybe even better.
1 live Taylor Shellfish geoduck, about 1 pound (We’ll only use the siphon or “neck” meat for this recipe—save the belly for the Geoduck Fritters), thinly sliced
2 medium limes, juiced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 small carrot, julienned
1 medium cucumber, thinly sliced lengthwise, skin on
¼ cup onion, chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 red chili peppers, chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 sprigs of mint, chiffonade cut, plus extra for garnish
⅓ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
Preparing geoduck might seem daunting to the novice cook; but it is surprisingly easy. There are two ways to prep a geoduck before cooking: clean the clam first then blanch the meat, or blanch the live clam—shell and all—and clean afterwards. The fastidious and squeamish will certainly prefer the latter method, and if we weren’t going to use the belly meat for another recipe, boiling the live geoduck whole would suffice. But this dish is best using only the siphon or “neck,” and the recipe for Geoduck Fritters is best using the mantle or “belly.” The belly meat used for the fritters will be fried very quickly, and we don’t want to blanch it and then fry it, as the meat will overcook. For both this recipe and for Geoduck Fritters, it is best to shuck and clean the geoduck first. Here’s how.
Begin by filling a small stock pot or large sauce pan (something big enough to hold the geoduck) half full with water and bring to a boil. Insert a sharp knife between the shell and the clam and cut the shell free. Repeat on the other side. You will now be able to see the entire naked clam with its viscera. Simply grab the viscera and pull it away from the body; it will separate quite easily. Trim away any remaining innards until the belly looks clean and neat.
The geoduck’s siphon is encased in a tough membrane that should be removed before eating. This is why we blanch geoduck: to facilitate removal of the neck casing much like we would blanch a tomato to ease removal of its skin. Pick up the clam from its belly and dunk the neck into the boiling water, being careful to keep the belly meat above the water line so it doesn’t cook. Blanch the neck for no more than 10 seconds then immediately submerge the geoduck into a bowl of ice water to halt cooking. Once cooled, you can strip that tough membrane from the siphon cleanly and easily, much like removing a latex glove from your hand. Cut off the very tip of the siphon, as this can be tough and chewy as well, then thinly slice the neck meat (reserving the belly for the Fritters recipe). Put the sliced geoduck into a mixing bowl and add the juice of one lime and toss. Marinate for 30 minutes.
While the geoduck is marinating, combine the celery, carrot, cucumber, onion and sesame seeds in another mixing bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the juice of the other lime, the garlic, red chili peppers, fish sauce and brown sugar. Pour this sauce into the bowl with the veggies.
Now add the sliced mint and geoduck meat to the veggie bowl and gently toss again. Spoon the ceviche onto each geoduck shell and serve on small plates garnished with mint and the chopped peanuts.