Forage Clams from Yaquina Bay and Make Your Own Chowder

Collect your own clams, and have a great time doing it!

One of the best things about visiting the Oregon Coast is the ability to gather the freshest seafood available anywhere from the ocean, bay, or along coastal rivers and estuaries. Bay Clamming is one of those activities that is both exciting and rewarding, and can be done alone, as a family or with a group of friends or colleagues. Clamming requires little expense or preparation, and can yield enough clams for a large batch of clam chowder. Clam chowder is easy to prepare, and leftover chowder may be frozen so that you can enjoy it for several meals into the future. Let’s start foraging!

Begin your clamming adventure by purchasing a shellfish license, and finding a pair of rubber boots, some warm clothes and rain gear, a bucket or ventilated sack (burlap works great), a clam shovel or four-tined rake (specialized shovels and rakes are available for purchase at most local hardware stores), a copy of the Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations, and a tide table. Pocket tide tables are available in many Newport businesses, and will help you determine when the tides are at their lowest; regulation booklets are often found in sporting goods sections of stores, or in places where fishing licenses are sold. Successful bay clamming is the most promising when you start an hour before, and finish an hour after low tide; when a large portion of the tidal flat is exposed.

If you choose to use a clam rake, it’s best to comb about four inches beneath the top of the sand near the water’s edge, or around the small sandy tide pools on the flat. The rake will pull the clams to the surface of the sand where they can be collected. If a shovel is your clamming tool of choice, you will look for “shows,” or holes that clams have left in the sand at low tide; they often bubble up when water passes over them. When you discover a show that is likely above a clam, start digging. The depth will vary depending on the kind of clam that will be found below. For specific information on clam depths and suggested tool use, visit the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/shellfish/bayclams/digging_bay_clams.asp.

The Yaquina Bay is home to six hearty species of harvestable clams. Gapers, Butters, Cockles, Littlenecks, Softshells, and Purple Varnish clams are all found in the six distinctive beds of the Bay. Visit www.myodfw.com/crabbing-clamming/northwest-zone for regulation highlights, including daily limits on each kind of clam found in the Bay. The most popular clamming location in Yaquina Bay, the Bridge Bed, also has the easiest access from the Port of Newport public pier (located between the Yaquina Bay Bridge and the Rogue Brewery), and offers impressive views of the massive Yaquina Bay Bridge looming above, and of the Historic Bayfront across the water. Both Gapers and Cockles are plentiful in the Bridge Bed, and can be easily harvested with a clamming rake or shovel.

Bay clamming is multi-seasonal, and open all year, except when closed by a public health advisory for toxins that can build up in clam and other shellfish populations throughout the year. These toxins occur naturally, and come from the phytoplankton that clams consume and store in their bodies. Although the toxins are poisonous to people, their occurrence is closely monitored by the Oregon Department of Agriculture so clam harvesting can be immediately stopped before anyone becomes sick. When a shellfish safety closure is in effect, signs are posted at clamming access points and local media informs the public, but you should always visit their updated site at www.oregon.gov/ODA/programs/FoodSafety/Shellfish/Pages/ShellfishClosures.aspx or call Oregon’s Safety Hotline at: 1-800-448-2474, before you go clamming.

As you harvest your clams, submerge them in saltwater in a bucket, or keep them in well ventilated bags until you have finished clamming. As you clam, you may throw out smaller ones  in favor of larger clams to maximize the amount of meat you will be allowed to keep. Although the smaller clams are more tender and desirable when served in a dish by themselves, larger clams are better for chowder or stew. When you are finished clamming, you’ll want to boil, clean and separate the clams from the shell as soon as possible. Sort through your find, and discard any broken or open clams, and then boil closed clams for 5 to 10 minutes, or until most of them have opened. Throw away any clams that haven’t opened after you’re done boiling. Pull the meat from the shells, and rinse away any sand and grit from the meat. Save the brine that has been used to boil the clams, as you’ll strain it and add it directly to the mix.

Once you’ve boiled and cleaned the clams, it’s time to gather all of the ingredients and prepare the chowder. This recipe is amazing, and comes from a local Newport chef:  

1 Onion (chopped)
Celery (chop equal amount to the onion)
1 Cube Butter
3 Cloves of Garlic
1-2 teaspoons Dill
Salt and Pepper to preferred taste
3-4 lbs. Potatoes peeled and cubed
Chopped clams with the juice used to boil them (drain the juice through a fine sieve or cheesecloth to remove all sand and grit).
1/3 lb. Bacon
1/2 gallon of whole Milk, or half and half (depending on how creamy you want it)
*Thicken to desired consistency with either a flour and butter paste or cornstarch -see below

Boil peeled, cubed potatoes separately until near done (20-25 minutes).
Cut up bacon, cook and drain, leaving a few tablespoons of liquid, turn heat to low and add onion and celery to bacon.
Add butter and garlic.
Add clams with juice. You may need to purchase some additional clam juice, so you have 12-16 oz. of juice to add.
Add milk or half and half and continue to simmer.
Drain potatoes and add them to mixture.
Continue to heat and thicken at this point. Usually about 15 minutes.

For thickening with cornstarch, dissolve with milk and add while stirring.
For thickening with flour and butter, melt a cube of butter and add flour to make a roux to add as desired- It requires extra stirring in to keep it from lumping.
After thickening chowder, add dill and salt & pepper to taste.

Total prep and cooking time: 1 to 1 and ½ hours; serves 4 people.  

Chefs secret: Add a little garlic powder if it needs more flavor when you are almost finished cooking, and if you use cornstarch, add a cube of butter at the end.

Now it’s time to reward yourself with your homemade chowder from the clams that you harvested! Pair the chowder with a loaf of local bread from Panini Bakery, a salad of fresh greens from the Newport Farmers Market, beer from Rogue Ales, or fine regional wine from the Willamette Valley, and enjoy!

Newport looks forward to welcoming you! Click here for more info on visiting Newport.