Rising sea is time to fish, high water is time to swim, low water is time to collect shells. In Brittany, where I was born, tides give rhythm to life. In many homes, the tide table is as important as the calendar. For each calendar day, the tide table provides times for low and high waters, and the tide “coefficient” (abbreviated as “coeff”). The coeff is used in France to calculate the amplitude of tides . Its value is between 20 and 120. Higher the coeff is, larger the tide amplitude is. “Les pêcheurs à pied” (the walking fishermen) wait impatiently for the days with high coeff, where they can walk far away from the shore to collect shells! During the few days of the spring tide, fishing becomes the main activity. It requires planning, doing the fishing, preparing the shells before cooking, cooking and eating them! This week-end, just now when I am writing this blog post, is such a busy time. Coeff is 103!
The amplitude of tides is the height difference between low water and high water. It varies according to the relative positions of the moon and the sun. The tide amplitude is at its maximum around new moon and full moon. This is spring tide! Spring has nothing to do with the season, but means “jump” or “rise”. The water jumps. In French, we say “grande marée” or “vives-eaux”. The tide is big, the water is living! In between new moon and full moon, the amplitude is at its minimum. This is neap tide, “mortes-eaux” in French. The water is dead.
At spring tide, we collect different kinds of shells, and also crabs and shrimps. They live in different environments. Here, on this kind of sand, you find cockles, and there, on this kind of shore, abalones. There are different fishing techniques for different shells too. Knowledge about fishing is transmitted through generations. At least it was. Today, we see less kids collecting shells except cockles that do not require any advanced fishing technique. I started fishing when I was a small kid mostly with my grand-parents and their friends, and sometimes with my parents. People usually have favourite fishing hobbies. My father liked fishing shrimps, palourde clams and abalones. Collecting all these is challenging physically. It often demands going deep in the water and requires strength. He used to fish both in summer and winter, and he also looked for shrimps at night as they are attracted by the light of torches. Women usually preferred collecting shells and all kids loved collecting razor clams! I still love it! It is so funny to look after the holes they make in the sand and to catch them with salt. It is magical!
In this blog post, I explain about fishing them, preparing them before eating and cooking them. Here are two recipes, a classic one and one with a modern touch. There is nothing that tastes as good as the shells you have collected yourself!
Collecting razor shells
You need a bucket and salt. Look at this video that shows the fishing technique. It has not professional quality, it was filmed by my husband… Language is in Norwegian, but the video is self-explanatory.
Preparation before eating
Let the shells purge about 1 day in sea water or salted water in a cool place. The shells contain sand. During purging, they empty for sand. I collect sea water at high tide on a spot facing the open sea so the water is clean. You may also salt fresh water (35 grams of salt/litre of water). Change the water several times a day, for instance morning, mid-day and evening. During summer, to keep the water cool, I add a large bottle of frozen water in the bucket containing the shells.
Before cooking them
Make sure the shells are alive. If the muscle (or tail) hangs out of the shell, touch it. If it does not retract, the clam is dead. Throw it away. The clams should be eaten not more than 2-3 days after fishing them. After 2-3 days, they tend to die rapidly.
Razor shells in a shell
This is a classic recipe. It is the recipe of my childhood.
- razor shells
- a few shallots
- butter (salted of course!)
- pepper, salt
- crumbs of grilled bread
Set the shells in a dry warm pan to open them. Do not cook long to avoid them to harden. Remove the flesh from the shell.
Remove the dark pocket than can contain some sand even after purging. Some people do like to eat it either.
Cut the shells in small pieces.
Chop the shallots, a few cloves of garlic and parsley. Mix with the shells. Taste. Adjust quantities according to taste.
Set the mixture in ceramic shells or empty scallop shells. You may also use the empty razor shells if you wish. Add pieces of butter. Spread bread crumbs.
Warm the shells in a warm oven. Around 10-15 minutes at 180 degrees. Enjoy with a glass of Muscadet!
Razor clam a la plancha
- small razor clams
- olive oil
- pepper, salt
Select small shells that you can eat whole. Large shells may contain a little sand even after purging. Also the guts are larger.
- Cut two or three tomatoes. Remove the seeds. Cut in small dices. Add good olive oil.
- Chop finely two small cloves of garlic.
- Chop six mint leaves.
- Chop a small handful of parsley.
- Mix all together. Be careful with mint. Its flavor is dominating.
- Salt just before eating to avoid softening the tomatoes.
Place the shells on a warm plancha. Grill until the shells open and the flesh comes off the shells. Do not grill too long, otherwise the flesh shrinks and hardens.
Serve immediately with sauce.