March – Spoot Clams
AKA Razor Clams – Enis spp
I love all shellfish and spoots are one of my favourite. The sweet succulence of their flesh falls deliciously between scallops and squid. As with many wild foods, the manner by which they are foraged enhances their gastronomic qualities. Being out in the wide expanses of a sand flat at twilight watching your first spoot lurch mistakenly (and a little rudely) from its silty burrow is one of the great foraging experiences. Children of all ages will be transfixed. Though you will have to actively seek them out, there is, for once, no danger of misidentification – not much else lurks beneath the low tide sands in a cut-throat razor shaped shell!
With a little bit of research, some planning and the right equipment, spoots are not hard to come by. You will first need to identify a low spring tide – which normally occur a couple of days after a full moon (“spring” here refers to the elasticity of the tide, not the time of year, though the lowest do occur in March). You can get them when the tide isn’t so low, but not so many or so easily.
Next you should equip yourself with salt – either a plastic tub from which dry salt can be accurately dispensed, or a strong solution that can be squirted (serious spooters use pump dispensers of the type used for spraying garden weedkiller). You will also require a good pair of wellies and a bucket the size of your optimism.
Once suitably equipped and with the tides in your favour, you must select your hunting ground. Lots of empty shells washed up on the beach is an encouraging sign, but remember that waves and tides don’t always move debris directly in and out. Generally, beds of fine sand of the type exposed in most of Galloway’s sandy shores are worth a look, though different sub-species thrive in different grades of grit and shingle. A certain amount of trial and error is necessary – and patience as you may only get the chance once or twice a month.
When you have selected a likely time and place, head out over the large expanse of exposed sea bed. This is an area that looks like a barren wet desert, but is actually teeming with life beneath the silt and sand. The further out you can go, the better the hunting will be.
If you are in a good spot, you should soon be alerted by small “spoots” of water being shot out of the sand – normally on the very periphery of your vision. This is the clam taking evasive action at the thunder of your foot-falls. Their “default” feeding position is at right-angles to the sea bed with their “mouth” end flush with the surface. As they flee, they move rapidly downwards, and any digging on your part is likely to be fruitless – or mangle the clam beyond edibilty. This is where your salt comes into play.
Keep your eye on the source of the “spoot”. You should be able to discern the clam’s escape route in the form of a small crater (sometimes this can look like an elongated 8). Liberally apply you salt and wait. If both your salt and the sand are dry, it may help to wash your salt down the hole with some water. You should soon see pulsing movements of wet sand in the crater. This is the exciting bit – for the first few hundred times anyway! Eventually, the clam, fooled into thinking the tide has come in, should magically, and quite rudely, emerge. Don’t get panicked into grabbing them as soon as they put their head above the parapet – they could easily slip from your grasp. Even if they seem to be retreating again, have faith! They move by pulsing motions in a two steps forward, one step back kind of way, and almost always fully emerge given time. Check out this video to see the process in action…
This is even more exciting for children and should give them the foraging bug for many years to come! My earliest foraging memory is hunting for shore crabs on Arran. My parents loved it – we could entertain ourselves for days with 20 square metres of beach and a bucket. Of course, we had no notion of eating the crabs – finding and tormenting them was pleasure enough!
A friend of mine from Shetland sneers a little at the salt method. It is seen as a wee bit “soft” up there and anyone turning up at low tide with salt will get sideways glances. Their technique is a much fairer contest whereby you creep up on their burrows (apparently walking backwards helps!) and cut a long-bladed knife through the sand until it makes contact with the fleeing mollusc. Keeping a sideways pressure against the shell will stop its flight and you should be able to root them out quite easily. It certainly isn’t as easy as the salt method, but is ultimately more satisfying – but only once the novelty of seeing them erupt has worn off.
If you have managed to locate a good colony, you should be able to gather a good number before the incoming tide spoils your fun. Try not to get carried away in the excitement of it all and take more than you can use – remember, they are shellfish and have limited fridge-life. I also recommend throwing the smallest 25% of your haul back. This means you don’t have to work out which sub-species you have been catching (each mature to a different size), and can be sure you aren’t catching immature specimens.
In my opinion, unlike most other filter-feeding bivalves, spoots do not require purging or depuration. I say this as somebody with a fairly robust constitution, who likes a lot of his shellfish as close to raw as possible. You should be aware that the waters around Galloway are by no means pristine, and many experts would advise you to purge (24 hours in clean salt water) and thoroughly cook all molluscs before eating. I have never had so much as a wet fart from any seafood so am perhaps a little more relaxed than most. You should make your own mind up on this issue. I rinse them of sand and silt, briefly steam them open (30 seconds should be enough – they are ruined by over cooking), then rinse them again.
The meat and gubbins should then come easily away from the open shell. The only part you can’t eat is the darker coloured stomach, though the mouth can be a bit chewy. The “foot” is the tenderest and sweetest part and I can never resist eating some raw and wriggling on the shore. They taste like very fine, extra sweet squid and lend themselves to similar preparations such as marinading and stir-frying, or both. Cooking – if you must – should be kept to a bare minimum. They make superb sushi or sashimi. Roll with wild garlic, wood sorrel, cuckoo flower for a real gastronomic treat.