Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Razor's Edge

Somerset Maugham, an obvious razor clam fan.
     Ok, possibly not.  Who knows?  Go with it and help me tie my bookish references with my food freak tendencies.  The Razor's Edge is one of my very favourite 'coming of age' novels and razor clams are a delectable treat.  There, we arrived in the end.
     These sweet little bivalves can be found all over the British coastline, (and the Atlantic coast from Canada to South Carolina) but are most often harvested in Scotland where they are called 'spoots'.  With a keen eye they can be found on Devon beaches if you can spot the tell tale 'cat's eye' slit in the wet sand.  Approach one of these lairs with caution as razors are very attuned to movement from above.  Pour some salt down said hole.  This will trick the poor sod into thinking the tide is coming in and within thirty seconds or so he should pop up for a look.  Carefully and with increasing pressure pull him from his watery domain.  Hold fast for the siphon of the razor can either rocket him back into the depths or snap off happily to grow again another day.  The razor's flesh is similar in taste to scallops but not quite so forgiving whilst cooking.  Literally a minute or two is all the clams need else they will go very rubbery.  Eat many and with complete abandon as they are very bountiful and not devoured enough in this land.  Another example of how you Brits export your delicacies rather than delighting in them.  Avoid heinous dredged product and May-September whilst spawning.
Steamed Razor Clams, Chorizo & Fried Breadcrumbs

Ingredients for 4 starters:

60gm Fresh white breadcrumbs
Extra virgin olive oil
2tbsp Chopped parsley
1tbsp Unsalted butter
150gm Soft chorizo
20 Razor clams
150mls Dry white wine
2 Minced garlic cloves
Cornish sea salt flakes
Freshly ground black pepper


1) Over a medium heat in a non-stick frying pan, heat 2tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and gently fry your breadcrumbs until golden.  Let cool.
2) Add the chopped parsley and a little seasoning to your crumbs.
3) Wipe the above pan and melt the butter.  Gently fry the chorizo for 1-2 minutes.  Mix with your crumbs.
4) Steam the razor clams in the white wine and garlic until they just begin to open.  1-2 minutes.  Strain and reserve your cooking juices.
5) Reserve the best 12 shells and remove the black and beige gut sac from the clams.  Slice into bite size pieces.
6) Reheat your clams quickly in a fry pan with a little of the garlic wine liquor and small knob of butter.  Season liberally.
7) Arrange your clams back in the shells and top with the toasted crumbs.

To serve:

     Five razor clams per person in three shells are an ample starter.  Drizzle with a little more olive oil and/or any juices left from the reheat.  Serve with a crisp dry white wine or my personal favourite...Pastis.  A 'bring on the summer' starter of sublime simplicity and subtle sophistication.

There is nothing quite like chorizo.
     Chorizo is a pork sausage usually associated with Spain that gains its distinctive colour and taste from dried and smoked red peppers.  Whether fresh or cured, chorizo is a real favourite.  The Brighton Sausage Company do a great fresh one that I like with saffron mashed potatoes and a rich rioja sauce.  Our very own Ellises Farm in the Blackdown Hills makes a fine cured chorzo that can be had at any number of South West farmer's markets or from their online shop.
     Ok, ok...I am actually writing to you about breadcrumbs.  But seriously it has come to my attention of late that you can actually buy breadcrumbs in the hypermarkets.  Come on people.  How much bread do you throw away in a year?  If you have any bread that has gone stale but not yet green, keep it somewhere dry and not in plastic.  It will harden and keep indefinitely, ready for the food processor, grater or even tied in cloth to be beat into fine submission with a rolling pin.  For fresh breadcrumbs, toasting them as above and storing them in an airtight container they will keep for weeks.  So handy in that rainy day cupboard or from the freezer.  Cotoletta alla Milanese, Pangrattato for your spaghetti, real homemade fish fingers for the kiddies...the list is endless.  You have the bread, you have the crumbs.

'There is something irresistibly ludicrous in grave men stooping over a hole, their coat tails pendant in the water, their breath suspended, one hand holding salt, the other alert to catch the victims- watching the perturbations of the sand, like hungry cats besides the holes of mice...'
-George Henry Lewes (Seaside Studies 1856)

Gene Tierney, The Razor's Edge, 1946

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