I have a terrible life, I know. Last Tuesday, my last day in Portugal on a trip to explore the food and drink (as a guest of Taste Portugal), we finished with a terrific day clam digging and cooking with 3* German but Rome based chef, Heinz Beck. Heinz also has a restaurant in the Algarve at the Conrad, you see, and while he is not based there he visits regularly and spends a lot of time in the kitchen.

Despite growing up on the sea, clam digging was entirely new to me, and it was fascinating. Even if we didn’t get that many, as the sea was too choppy and the clams were all buried away. We dragged a few out of their hidey holes though, and I can tell you how to do it.

To catch a razor clam, and yes, catch it you do, find a keyhole shaped hole in the sand in an area where the clams live. In the Algarve we went by boat to a sand bed that is covered by the tide when it is high. The clam holes are not particularly large, less than a centimetre, but do look like a keyhole or figure of 8. Sprinkle quite a bit of salt on it, covering it, and if there is a razor clam in residence you will soon know, as the salt drives them to the surface with speed. You will notice a frothing where the salt is, add more on, and soon you will see the razor clam peep out. It will eventually jump and then you grab it, and put it in your basket. Job done. Well, for one clam anyway, you will need a lot more.

You can also use a little spear to catch the clams, poking them into the hole, with the intention of not actually spearing the clam as you want it alive, but getting it to latch on to it. Wire mesh or wicker baskets are used to collect the clams, so that you can wash your catch by dipping it in and out of the water when you are done. You will occasionally catch a worm (don’t grab that, and prepare for a fright, they are pretty speedy and lashy). For best results, use fine sea salt for holes in the sand and coarse sea salt for holes in the water (like in a shallow pool). For smaller clams, we used a triangular shaped spade and dug up portions of sand, plucking out the clams as we did, this was much more successful.

On the way back, we stopped at a small oyster farm, Aquaprime Oysters, and indulged. Large salt sweet oysters greeted us, plucked straight from their bed. We had some light Douro sparkling to accompany, that the oyster farmers make themselves. At this point I actually fell over in the boat, such was my enthusiasm, but thankfully no harm done. I landed in the boat, saved my camera, and apart from a few bruises, all was ok. I have long ago given up on worrying about what people think of my frequent accidents, I am ridiculously clumsy.

Back to Gusto, Heinz Beck’s restaurant in the Conrad. Heinz had prepared some recipes that we would cook with him, using our catch. Heinz thinks about the body and health when he cooks, and has worked with consultants to develop menus that are healthy, as well as being flavoursome. You don’t miss a calorie and are still able to tackle the world when you finish. More on that, and recipes, soon. Some pictures of that now, to whet your appetite.

I travelled to Portugal as a guest of Taste Portugal, a series of luxury gourmet pop-ups in London from October to March 2015, bringing Michelin-starred chefs from Portugal to the UK for an Iberian epicurean extravaganza. Details on the Taste Portugal website. To go on, or organise your own clam digging tour, contact Cristina at 100limites. 

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Niamh

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