Your first sight of a geoduck may be alarming, but these hefty clams are prized for their surprisingly delicate taste and texture.
While the traditional seafood fare of crab, oysters, and fish are timeless choices, true seafood lovers are always seeking the next delicious ocean-dwelling snack. For anyone willing to make the trek to the Pacific Northwest (or shell out to order seafood online), it boasts some of the best varieties of sea dishes. But for those who are no longer satisfied with the options of calamari and crab cakes, the PNW has an offering that goes above and beyond. So, what’s the obvious next step for the epicurean who can’t get enough of all-you-can-eat oysters, clams, scallops, and mussels? Clearly, geoduck.
What Is a Geoduck?
Pronounced “gooey-duck,” the geoduck clam’s off-putting first impression is that of phallic elephant trunk. It can make some squeamish, but its sweet flavor and light, crunchy texture brings travelers from around the globe to have a taste. Native to the Pacific Coast of North America, geoducks have a pretty impressive repertoire. They’re the largest burrowing clam on the planet, can grow to be more than six feet long, and can even live in excess of 100 years.
Derived from the Nisqually Indian word for “dig deep,” geoducks often burrow their shells several feet underground. Native Americans used to collect them during low tide before their popularity surged and elevated the geoduck to delicacy-status. Since then, it has been dubbed the Pacific Northwest’s “most profitable marine creature” by the Smithsonian. They claim the geoduck is so sought after that it has even been traded for drugs.
Harvested from the murky, sandy bays of the Olympic Peninsula, geoducks let out a disconcerting squirt when pulled from their holes by harvesters, clad in waders and welding shovels. Those harvesters end up selling them for anywhere between $20 and $150 per pound. With each geoduck sitting between one and three pounds on average, it adds up quickly, totaling about 4 million pounds annually.
Geoduck Clam, $45+ from Taylor Shellfish Farms
How Do You Eat Geoduck?
While geoduck clams can be difficult to come by outside of the Pacific Northwest, they can be prepared in a slew of ways. Smoked above a fire, made into sashimi, sauteed in a pan, or even raw, geoduck can surprise even the pickiest of eaters. According to R.E.C. Stearns, a naturalist who drew pictures of the clam for The Fisheries and Fishery Industries in the late 19th century, well-prepared geoduck could “puzzle persons who tasted it for the first time as to whether they were eating fish, flesh, or fowl.”
Geoduck, unlike other clams, can die from over-exposure to cold. To keep it fresh and alive, opt for just chilling it in the refrigerator instead.
Preparation of the geoduck begins by throwing it into boiling water for 30 seconds, or blanching it, and then quickly chilling it to remove the loose outer skin. Break open the geoduck shell and empty it of the less favorable viscera and cut along where the geoduck meat, or siphon, meets the shell on one side. Pull away any debris and tear the remaining geoduck breast from inside of the shell. Cut the siphon longways from the tip to the base, slicing the base off like a banana. Then, take the sliced part and carefully wash away any sand or debris from the inside. The breast and the siphon are the most delicious parts of the geoduck and both have different uses. The banana-shaped siphon base is often sliced and eaten raw, with the siphon itself being cut longways and used creatively in dozens of dishes. The breast can be minced and served raw.
So take a trip to the Pacific Northwest or order online and have a taste. Geoduck carpaccio, geoduck chowder, and geoduck sashimi are just a few delicious routes. A day trip to the peninsula can show you how the clam is harvested, as well as give you a glimpse into the lives of the people who harvest them. From Portland to Vancouver, the geoduck has established itself as a globally renowned export—and no matter your opinion on how it looks, the world has made it clear with geoduck’s $80 million industry that its flavor is something every food lover should give a chance.
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.