Razor Clams

(Ensis directus): WILD CAUGHT

ATLANTIC RAZOR CLAMS (SOME CALL THEM “JACKKNIFE CLAMS”) are brittle, bivalve clams most commonly found from Canada to New England and as far South as the Carolinas. They are so named for their shells’ resemblance to the shape of an old-fashioned straight edge razor.

Razor Clams are distinct from other clam species due to their unique shape – much longer than they are wide. It has a large muscular “foot” that extends from one end of the narrow-bodied clam that is capable of extending out almost one half of its body length. It is this “foot” that allows the razor to burrow vertical down into deep, wet sand at a quick rate, often several feet when necessary to escape predators. Also a strong swimmer, it propels itself through the water by rapidly opening and closing its shell and drawing in its foot.

Razor clams are primarily found in shallow subtidal flats close to the shoreline. When it feeds, it comes up from its burrow to the surface so that it can extend it siphon to filter feed. At this time, the clam is visible and vulnerable to harvesting. Harvesters can see the telltale sign of a razor by the hole it leaves when burrowing up to the surface. If not nabbed by hand, they are dug or raked out. Some harvesters throw salt on the hole as it is believed this draws the clam back up to the surface.

The challenge to the commercial supply of razors to the market is the grueling “hand harvesting” necessary to secure the clams alive and intact. Another major limitation for harvesters is access to the tidal flats: harvest is only practical during a “negative” or “minus” tide (lowest tide) when the flats are at their highest exposure. These negative tides are the lowest during phases of the full moon – ultimately providing only a few days out of the month to even reach the razor clam beds. These factors – along with the extreme Maine cold and icing in the winter months that prevents harvest altogether – limit reliable supply.

Razor clams however have come into higher demand over the past few years in kitchens of high end restaurants across the country. Although they can be used in just about any recipe calling for clam meat, and have been traditional in chowders, steamed, sautéed and fried here in New England, many chefs are exploring new ways to prepare them: over pastas, as ceviche, in Asian dishes, and even in salads.

Harvested Razor Clams generally range in length between 4-6 inches. Shipped and packed live, their body should be a creamy white color. Razor clams shells are permanently agape at both ends; unlike hard shell clams it does not close fully. Store as you would live shellfish: refrigerate under a damp cloth – but not sealed in plastic or set in water or melting ice. Approximate average is 8 clams per pound.

Catch Region: Gulf of Maine

Seasonality: Spring-Early Winter

Catch Method: Hand Harvested, Shoveled/ Raked

Flavor Profile: Mild & Sweet

Texture Profile: Mildly Firm; Tender