Go deep. Not for a pass, but for a clam.

Razor clams — those skinny, sleek clams of the coast — are down deep below the surface. They are able to burrow up to a few feet deep. And although they generally live far underground unnoticed by many, they were not safe from a desperate clam digger last week. Having been unable to catch our fill of hard clams last week at Katama, Jean-Marc Dupon and I decided to live (and dine) on the edge.

The edge of the razor clam is very sharp, and Jean-Marc very quickly got the tips of his fingers slashed. This bivalve, or two-shelled mollusk, gets its name from both its appearance, resembling a straightedge razor, and the actual sharpness of its edge, or blade. It is also called a jackknife clam.

While these clams are edible and even esteemed, they are rarely seen at the fish market, on a restaurant menu, or served on the half shell at a dinner party. There are two reasons. The first has to do with speed: razor clams are very fast moving and thus hard to catch. Additionally, they do not live for long out of water, surviving less than a day once removed from their natural habitat.

There are three varieties of razor clams on Island, but typically only one, the common razor clam (Ensis directus), is encountered. It can reach lengths of up to ten inches long and is about one inch across. With double shells that are attached by a hinge, it is open at the top and the bottom, which makes it unable to ‘clam up,’ or close all the way. Although the shell is white, it doesn’t appear so, as it is covered with a green-yellow periostracom, a coating that protects its delicate shell from eroding.

In the clam yearbook, razor clams would be voted fastest and most agile, and if there were such a race, it would win the bivalvathon. The razor can both swim and dig using its extendable foot on either end. When horizontal, it can shoot forward three to four feet by using its foot like a spring to propel itself. Vertically, its prowess is no different. If you lay one down on the surface of the sand, watch it stick its foot out to get a hold and shoot straight up before it quickly disappears below the sand, no longer joining you for dinner.

Where there is one razor clam, there are many, since these animals live colonially. Catch as many as you can and cook them like any other clam: steamed, fried, in sauce, etc. But definitely don’t miss out, since they have been included in Madison Brooks’ book 1001 Foods to Die For. The book’s title doesn’t have to be taken literally, though, so do be careful when handling razor clams!

These clams were truly delicious, more than making up for the difficulty of collecting them — though in the competition for capture, the razor has the definite edge.


Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.