Clam Chowder – Loving to Fish in the Time of Covid-19

Ling Cod and Clam Chowder

“Yeah bud” I said, adjusting my now numb left butt cheek.

“Dad?” came the question from the back seat. 

 “What was the town we are fishing out of again?” my middle son asked.

“Newport, what up?” I said.

“Well, we might want to look at that…”

Like many Idahoans who can’t afford Hawaii I tend to make an annual trip to Oregon’s central coast every year if possible. As a desert rat I don’t see the ocean all that much and love the breeze in my face, the smell of the salt and the clam chowder from Mo’s.

“Adults” building sand castles

An annual migration is a must. But I was not sure about being able to go this year, Covid-19 and all. I changed my mind when all our other plans began to get canceled. My eldest sons’ senior trip to Europe, canceled. My middle sons summer trip to DC, canceled. My youngest boys creative writing summer camp was, you guessed it, canceled. Basically, none my vacation money was spent. I was only out the insurance money. Buy the insurance people…

So, we decided, when things became safer, to have a road trip. We gathered several other seniors from my sons’ class (one who had a trip to Japan canceled, another a trip to Europe as well) and headed off for a road trip to the coast. I wish I had a prescription for Xanax for the drive, but we made it to the coast. Some of the boys had never caught a fish. So of course, we had to hit the “Rock Fish” charters that dot the central coast. This is a tale of two charters on the Oregon Coast. One in Newport and one in Depot Bay, both doing a fantastic job in their respective areas.

Unfortunately, the as we arrived in town the news of a Covid-19 outbreak in Newport hit the news. Our plan was to fish out of the building next door to the shrimp factory with the biggest outbreak in Oregon. Roughly 130 out of the 330 people at the plant tested positive for Covid-19. So I called Tradewinds Newport and canceled our charter – with very short notice to the business. When I called I was expecting a plead, an argument or at least some sort of push back. Instead I got “we understand, thanks for letting us know. We hope you come back when this all clears up.” No drama, no pleading, nothing but understanding and professionalism. I will fish with them when this clears up.

Instead we took the boys on a high wind and rough sea day out of Depot Bay. Oof, bad idea. Not due to the carter, the weather was the problem. Every person in my group got sick. Five out of six of us chummed the fishes. But we left with our limits of rockfish and a single lingcod. The charter was explicit – wear masks while on the ship. Make sure you wash your hands. Keep only the pole we assign you. Don’t be an idiot, respect what is happening around you. They did a great job keeping us safe.

Back at the harbor five hours later a gaggle of seasick kids and I departed the boat. Happy to be on land, not really caring about the haul of meat we had taken. Nor was I feeling like cleaning a fish either, so I paid the man at the dock to cut up my fish. It was 1$ each. Well worth the money.    

After the fishing, a nap and some pizza I got a second wind. I grabbed my knife, a potato and started chopping food up. I needed to feel normal.   

a bucket of purple varnish clams

Digging Purple Varnish Clams –

Right now in the state of Oregon (until further notice) all clamming is closed to non-residents. As such, if you are visiting the coast make sure you have all correct licensees before you start digging. That said, pre-covid-19 I did have a chance to dig some purple varnish clams off Alease Bay and save them for a recipe.   

I dug specifically for purple varnish clams. Those clams offer the highest bag limit in Oregon and are very easy to dig. They reside in all parts of the tide zone. I clamed the north side of Alsea Bay in Waldport and had my limit in the bucket in less than an hour. I dug three holes in total, and the low tide that day was a +1.8.  

I found that these clams tended to congregate in larger colonies than other clam groups. It makes is easy to get a limit. Also, getting a limit is not something that you should feel that bad about. They are an invasive species. You are kinda doing the environment a favor by removing them.

Invasive or not the varnish clam is delicious. To cook them follow a couple easy, if time consuming, steps for success.

First – wash the crap out of them all. Find the “sand” clams in the batch. Every time I cook clams, I am reminded of the time I made risotto with a dead clam that was full of sand because he looked alive. Sandy rice is not a good dish. It was tossed out. All the digging and work, wasted. Never again.

Second – bring a pot of water to a boil and pop open the shells on the clams. It should only take 20-30 seconds to get them all open. Remove them from the hot water and cool them in cold water from the sink.

Third – remove the meat from the shell. When you do note the green/grey/black bulb on each of them. That is the gut sac, you are going to want to pinch that and pull it off. Then wash the exposed end free of any remaining green/grey/black stuff. Wash them again.

Fourth – keep the abductor and cleaned section in a separate bowl until you are ready to use them.

While the process is very easy is can take a little bit of time for 72 clams. Good things require work, and these clams are delectable. 

Lingcod and Purple Varnish Clam Chowd’a

72 Purple Varnish Clams, cleaned (sea above)

1 pound diced lingcod meat

½ pound of bacon, sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium onion, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

½ cup pancake mix (or flour)

4 small potatoes, diced

½ teaspoon celery seed

1 11oz jar clam juice

1 16oz can chicken stock

2 quarts cream

1 tablespoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper

Local Northwest Sourdough Bread

Clean the clams as noted above.

In a heavy bottom 6-quart soup pot add the diced bacon and cook until crispy. Next add the garlic and cook until fragment on medium heat. Then add the onion and celery. Cook until the onion is turning translucent. Next add the pancake mix and stir it around. Until it forms a onion and bacon paste. Then add the potatoes, celery seeds, clam juice, chicken stock and cream. Reduce heat to low and let simmer until the potatoes are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper. At this point you have a decent potato chowder on your hands.

Next add the clams and the ling cod to the simmering soup base. Stir them in and let the soup return to a simmer. Turn off soup and let sit for 5 minutes for the fish to finish cooking. Serve in a bowl with a large hunk of sourdough bread and butter. Enjoy.

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