SEATTLE — Chef Heather Earnhardt of Seattle’s beloved The Wandering Goose now has a lovely coastal headquarters at the Tokeland Hotel — opened in 1885, it’s Washington state’s oldest lodgings. The super-creamy, slightly spicy chowder she makes at the restaurant there calls for the Pacific Northwest delicacy known as razor clams, and the Tokeland makes a fine home base if you’re heading out to dig your own. (The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has all the info, from dates for digs to how to clean them.)
The best way to eat razor clams, as everyone including Earnhardt agrees, is right away, just cleaned, dredged lightly in flour and fried in butter. But razor-clam chowder is a special treat, the delicate clams lending a bouncy texture and a perfectly light oceanic flavor. Earnhardt’s recipe — which she’ll include in a new Tokeland Hotel cookbook when she finds the time to put it together — starts, propitiously, with frying bacon in a half-stick of butter. The celery and shallot get cooked only briefly, maintaining a little crunchy life in the chowder. Don’t chop the clams too fine; you don’t want them to get lost.
If you can’t go dig your own razor clams (or go eat chowder at the Tokeland Hotel), you can get them frozen from Alaska at Pike Place Fish Market (where they throw the fish), both on-site and online; Uwajimaya stocks frozen ones, too. This chowder would also be very fine made with regular Manila clams. Serve it with crackers or bread, with an extra pat of butter melting on top of each bowl.
Earnhardt says this version “tastes how you always hoped clam chowder would taste.”
TOKELAND HOTEL CLAM CHOWDER
2 medium potatoes, peeled
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup diced bacon (about 2 strips) (Benton’s, if you have it)
1/2 cup celery, diced (about two ribs)
1/2 cup shallot, diced
Kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup white wine
3 cups half-and-half
1 cup bottled clam juice
Zest of 1/2 lemon and a squeeze of lemon juice
1 small bunch of thyme tied with cotton string
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, plus up to 2 teaspoons more to finish
2 teaspoons hot sauce (Texas Pete, Crystal or your favorite), plus up to 2 teaspoons more to finish
1 cup razor clams (or a little more, plus any juices), cleaned and roughly chopped (about 10 clams)
Boil potatoes, quartered, for 10 minutes until just tender. Rinse in cold water to cool, then dice.
Melt butter, add bacon and cook until almost crispy over medium heat.
Add celery and shallots, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until they just start to soften (about 3 to 4 minutes).
Add flour and stir until white color has cooked off (about 1 minute).
Add white wine and stir for 1 minute.
Add half-and-half, then about 1/4 cup clam juice, while stirring constantly.
Add lemon zest, squeeze of lemon juice, thyme bundle, and Worcestershire and hot sauce.
Cook until starting to thicken, stirring often — don’t let it scorch.
Add as much of the diced potatoes as you like (maybe about 11/2 cups) and the clams, then stir in the rest of the clam juice as the chowder (quickly) gets thicker.
Cook for a few minutes, stirring, then turn heat to low and taste. Season with salt, pepper and more Worcestershire and hot sauce, stirring in a little at a time while tasting — it will want about a teaspoon of salt and up to 2 teaspoons each of additional Worcestershire and hot sauce.
Serve sprinkled with extra thyme leaves and a pat of butter melting on top.