WHIDBEY RECIPES: (Geo)Duck Hunt – Tips on digging and cooking

After the Father’s Day column about digging geoducks with my Dad, I had several e-mails asking for more information about both digging and cooking ’ducks, as well as a few conversations with acquaintances also curious about ’duck digging.

So, because we will still have some low enough tides coming up, I’ll spend some time today on the legendary Panope Generosa, affectionately known as “big, ugly clam.”

First, as I said in the column, no matter how it’s spelled, it’s pronounced gooey duck and all of you transplanted Pacific Northwesterners will sound like you’ve been here forever if you can talk about gooey ducks as if you know what you’re talking about. Nisqually Indian lore says the name originated from Gwee Dukh, which means “Dig Deep,” and if you’ve ever dug for them, you’ll agree it’s appropriately named.

Fully grown geoducks average 6 to 8 pounds, but it’s not unusual to see 20-pounders being harvested, especially by divers who can blast them out of the sand with air compressors even past the lowest tide line.

Unfortunately for the poor geoduck, however, its shell is never large enough to contain its body, and the ’duck’s long, leathery neck is left to hang out; the butt of many an obscene joke on the tide flats.

A geoduck’s neck can stretch to a remarkable, and ugly, three feet and, because it is a siphon feeder, that neck will be fully extended as it feeds.

When you walk out on the tide flats ’duck hunting, all you will see is the tip of that siphon.

If you touch it, or as you begin to dig around it to catch the clam, it will retract. What this means is that you may have to dig two to three feet down in the mucky sand to actually get to the clam itself.

Don’t, please, grab the neck and think you can pull the ’duck out of the sand because you’ll find yourself with a detached neck in hand, but no clam, and that’s no way to dig a ’duck.

Some ’duck hunters use what’s called a clam tube, or sometimes clam gun, which is a metal tube shoved into the sand around where the neck was spotted. This keeps the sand from collapsing in on the hole, which will be large, as you dig.

In the end, however, someone will have to put their arm down into that hole and try to feel around for the body of the clam. If you try to continue digging to dislodge the clam, you’ll risk damaging the shell, which is not desirable, so there you are, kneeling in the tidal muck, with your arm up to the shoulder in a wet, sandy hole. Will you believe me if I tell you it’s actually fun?

There’s a very satisfying feeling when your hand is on the clam, jiggling and wiggling to loosen it from the sucking sand, and then hauling it up, out of the hole. I know people who say they went ’duck digging once and don’t ever want to go again, but I and many, many like me, love the challenge of digging geoducks.

Be advised, however, geoduck digging is not for wimps. You have to enjoy getting down and dirty in the cold, sandy muck, just to end up with one of the Great Spirit’s oddest creations, Panope Generosa.



First, for beginners, how to clean your freshly caught (or bought) geoduck. Slide a sharp, thin-bladed knife (a filet knife works best) inside and around the edges of both sides of shell, releasing the clam from the shell. At this point, you will have the entire clam, sans shell and neck skin.

Yes, Virginia, the clam is still alive, or it had better be; you don’t want to be dealing with a dead clam, until this next step.

Remove the stomach (the large, central soft blob), leaving neck and clam meat that surrounded the stomach. (Many Asian cuisines have recipes that use cleaned geoduck stomach.)

Cut off the neck and dip it into a pot or it had better be; you don’t want to be dealing with a dead clam, until this next step.

Remove the stomach (the large, central soft blob), leaving neck and clam meat that surrounded the stomach. (Many Asian cuisines have recipes that use cleaned geoduck stomach.)

Cut off the neck and dip it into a pot of boiling water. Leave it about a minute, then pull it out, run it under cold water and pull off the leathery, tough neck skin. It should come off easily; if not, dip it into the water a bit longer.

At this point, there are a number of options. If you put all the meat through a coarse grinder, you’ll have ideal chowder material, and geoduck chowder is one of my favorite seafood dishes. The minced or ground meat is also perfect for geoduck hash, fritters, cakes and others. But, you can also slit the neck and open it out, then turn it into geoduck “steak” by pounding it a bit, then breading and sauteing. And, one of the best geoduck dishes I’ve ever eaten was Szechuan-style geoduck strips we often enjoyed at the old Atlas Café in Chinatown in downtown Seattle. I’ve never quite equalled theirs, but I’ve come close.

The primary thing to remember about any dish you decide to prepare using your hard won geoduck is NOT TO OVERCOOK. Geoduck can be and should be very tender if cooking time is minimal; overcook it and you’ll be chewing on what feels like the sole of your running shoe.

Let’s begin with one of my favorite geoduck specialties, golden crispy fritters.


2 cups flour

2 t. baking powder

1 t. salt (or to taste)

3 eggs, beaten

1 T. dry white wine or sherry

½ to 1 cup milk (see instructions)

Meat from one good-sized geoduck, finely minced or ground; save and reserve juices

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Combine the eggs, wine, clam meat and any clam juices; add to the flour mixture, stirring until combined. Add milk as necessary to make a thick but not gluey batter, mixing well.

Drop by heaping teaspoons into hot, deep fat (375 degrees) and cook, turning carefully as necessary until entire fritter is a deep golden brown. Lift out with a slotted spoon (or frying basket), drain briefly on paper towels and serve immediately, with tartar sauce, chili sauce or sour cream for dipping.

Note: If you just can’t handle deep frying the fritters, preheat a skillet or griddle, spray liberally with vegetable spray, and cook fritters until golden, turning carefully to do all sides.

A delicious dish for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner is this geoduck hash, which you could make with canned clams, I suppose, but nothing ever tastes quite like geoduck.



1 cup sour cream

¼ cup Dijon mustard

½ t. horseradish (creamy style or not, your preference)

½ t. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ t. grated lemon zest

1 ½ T. chopped fresh thyme, or 1 t. dried thyme

1 ½ cups coarsely ground geoduck meat

1 cup sliced green onions, including some of the green

½ cup mixed chopped bell peppers (red, yellow, green, or all of one kind if that’s all you have on hand)

3 cups peeled, coarsely grated russet potatoes

3-4 T. olive oil

Slivered green onion, minced cilantro and lemon wedges, for garnish

In a large bowl, combine sour cream, mustard, horseradish, salt and pepper, lemon zest and thyme; mix until evenly combined. Add clams, green onions, bell pepper and potatoes. Stir mixture until all ingredients are lightly coated with the sour cream mixture.

Add the olive oil to a heated, large nonstick skillet. Add the hash to the pan, cover and cook over med. heat for 7-10 min, or until hash begins to brown on the bottom. Turn it over (if you’re not adept with a wide spatula, put a plate over pan, invert pan and drop hash cake onto plate, then slide back into pan). Cook, uncovered, on the second side until browned on the bottom, 5-7 min. Turn hash out onto serving platter, garnish with minced cilantro and slivers of onion and put lemon wedges around edge.

Margaret Walton can be reached at falwalcal@msn.com.