The Morel the Merrier

That’s a Lot of Clam!

When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1994, I knew I would experience some new things. I expected to encounter the following:

Sure enough, all of those stereotypes were real. But there was one thing I was completely unprepared for.

Geoduck.

The first time I heard the phrase, I assumed that person was referring to a gooey duck dish. Maybe a perfectly rendered roast duck breast with a cherry compote. When I mentioned how much I enjoy duck, the person snickered and corrected me. “It’s a clam,” he said.

Ahh. A clam! OK, then. I was expecting this:

(Courtesy of ifood.tv)

(Courtesy of ifood.tv)

Instead, I got this:

(Courtesy of antiquark.com)

(Courtesy of antiquark.com)

That’s no clam. It’s the stuff of nightmares, a science experiment gone wrong, a creature from a Godzilla movie. One that could take out the big green lizard easily, and probably King Kong too, if he was in the mood.

Not only does it look like one of the scariest creatures to roam the earth, but that spelling makes no sense at all. Geoduck. G-O-Duck. How do you get gooey out of that? Maybe if you flipped a few of the vowels around, it would make sense.

It doesn’t look even remotely edible, either. But geoduck is currently fetching around $30 a pound. In China, demand is so high, it can run as high as $150 a pound. That’s a lot of clams! The high price has meant a surge in illegal geoduck harvesting, particularly in Puget Sound, where the long-necked bivalves are abundant.

After hearing all these stories, I was intrigued. I have an adventurous palate, and love the cuisine of the Pacific Northwest. Geoduck, despite being odd-looking and inappropriately spelled, was calling my name. I knew I had to try it.

Finally, in 2011, the moment of truth arrived. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) had flown in from Nevada, and I was meeting her mom, who lives in Bothell, for the first time. The GF and I had planned an evening in Seattle that included a sushi restaurant in Belltown that just happened to feature geoduck on the menu. It was baked in a cheesy mayonnaise-based sauce with lots of mushrooms, onions, and fresh herbs. The clam itself was chopped up into bite-sized pieces and looked nothing like the photo above. I’m not sure if I was relieved or disappointed. In any case, we eagerly dug in. And found it to be quite delicious. It tasted…drumroll, please…like – are you ready for this?

It tasted like clam.

I don’t know what I was expecting it to taste like. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, but in a blind taste test, I doubt I could tell the difference between a manila clam that costs $5 a pound and a geoduck going for six times that amount. (Or 30 times that amount in China)!

At least now I can boast that I have tried geoduck.

If you’d like similar bragging rights and are going to be in the Emerald City, check out Shiro’s, the sushi spot we visited (2401 2nd Ave). Geoduck, in one form or another, is a mainstay on their menu. Taylor Shellfish Farms on Capitol Hill is another good spot.

In the Portland area, geoduck is a little harder to find. It sometimes appears on the menus of a few local sushi places (Bamboo Sushi, Restaurant Murata, Masu Sushi) but call ahead to make sure they’ve got some if that’s your sole reason for going.

 

Mark Petruska

Mark Petruska is a writer in love with the Pacific Northwest. A "foodie." A wannabe rock 'n roll star. A ghost hunter. An amateur photographer. An aficionado of thrift stores and cocktails and cheap matinees and farmer's markets. He believes in peace, love and happiness … and geoduck. His self-published novel, No Time For Kings, earned excellent reviews and is for sale on Amazon. Mark believes that life is too short for lame sitcoms and processed food. Follow his journey as he samples the varied cuisine of the Pacific Northwest, one bite at a time.

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