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Recipes and stories for everything but the oink.

The Nasty Bits: Geoduck

"You have to love a mollusk that's so willing to undress itself for your eating pleasure."

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[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

Every once in a while I treat myself to geoduck, a hefty clam that sells for a hefty price. Geoduck is often described as ugly or strange, but is it really such an unattractive mollusk? Its appearance is not unsightly so much as it is unfamiliar: a ponderous clam shell from which a firehose kind of siphon protrudes, wrinkled and dark, like an extraterrestrial creature rising from the depths of the earth.

20101018-nastybits-whole.jpgOne of the largest types of clam in the world, the burrowing, reclusive geoduck is also unbelievably long-lived. Though the ones we buy from the fishmonger's are harvested from geoduck farming operations, in the wild a geoduck undisturbed can live for well over a hundred years: longer than any other animal you will ever eat, longer than you yourself will live.

There is poetry in its enduring existence and beauty underneath its rough exterior. Slipped out of its skin, the trunk of a geoduck is pearly and pale, almost iridescent. Pried from its shell, its body is creamy white, Rubenesque and meaty in mass.

And, of course, geoduck is delicious: somewhere between a chewy clam and a tender abalone, though crisper in texture than either. Geoduck's strange appearance belies the ease with which it cooks up in the kitchen. It is easier to make than roast chicken and sautes more quickly than scrambled eggs; its trunk, in fact, is best when it isn't cooked at all.

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Whatever the preparation, you have to love a mollusk that's so willing to undress itself for your eating pleasure. After a quick parboiling in boiling water, the leathery casing of the trunk slips off in one piece by way of one gentle tug.

Sliced thinly and served with ponzu or soy sauce and wasabi, the trunk served as sashimi is a joy to chew and taste: sweet and oceanic like oysters, plucky like sea cucumber.

The shell, which stays tightly in place when raw, opens without objection after parboiling. Inside, you'll find that the body of the flesh, though unappealing raw, is tender and just slightly chewy when sauteed. You can go the French route with plenty of browned butter and wine or opt for an Asian-style stir-fry with chili peppers, garlic, and fish sauce. Either way, the idea is to barely sear the geoduck; you want to whisk your clam away from the heat before it's even had a chance to get acquainted with the interior of the pan, so short is the ideal cooking time.

Finally, know that one of these bad boys, around 1 1/2 pounds with shell-on, can feed a party of four as the main ingredient to a dish.

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