Digging for Geoducks

Langdon Cook digs deep to suss out the wily Washington geoduck.

Like climbing Mount Rainier, fishing for steelhead or performing a microbrew pub crawl across Seattle, digging for the wily geoduck is an exercise in regional identity. Although a few of the big clams live as far south as Baja California, Puget Sound is a stronghold of abundance, and it is here where the art of geoduck clamming has been perfected.

Very low tides are necessary. The first week in July will see a few in the negative 3-foot range. If you haven’t tried unearthing a geoduck before, this will be your last best chance of the year.

It’s hard to say which is more difficult—locating the clam’s home or digging it out. Its strange name derives from the Nisqually word gweduk, meaning “dig deep.” Pioneers sometimes called them “horsenecks,” or worse. Geoduck larvae will bury themselves 3 feet beneath the substrate soon after hatching and then remain entombed for the rest of their lives, which can be 100 years or longer. They betray their whereabouts with a yard-long, double-barreled siphon that sometimes protrudes from the hole. Once one is spotted, I like to dig nearby, shoveling down and then across to the clam’s burrow—like a bank robber tunneling into a vault. Once you can touch the shell, excavate around the clam to free it from its vacuum-sealed lair.

More than 90 percent of our geoducks are shipped off to Asia, but resident shellfish lovers are beginning to understand what some locals have known all along: The geoduck easily lives up to its new marketing name, king clam. It’s big and tasty. Thinly sliced as sashimi or dressed with olive oil and lemon for crudo, the geoduck’s siphon packs enormous clam flavor into a pleasing al dente texture, while the body meat plumps up nicely for a quick, succulent stir-fry. And you’ll want more than a single recipe; geoducks weigh anywhere from a couple of pounds to double digits. So this Fourth of July, dig a ’duck.