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By Well Seasoned, Feb 28 2019 02:00AM

If you’re brave enough to go to the beach in late Winter, try hunting for razor clams (or, as they’re known in Scotland, ‘spoots’.) These elongated molluscs resemble the shape of a cut-throat razor, hence the name, and they make for excellent eating.

Despite the risk of some pretty inclement weather, February is a good time to collect and eat shellfish because most will spawn during the warmer summer months. For some reason (as with many of our shellfish) we don’t eat many razor clams in the UK, but they are gobbled up by our continental cousins, and for good reason. Their flesh is firm and meaty, and although it has a fairly subtle taste, it partners very well with some big, bold flavours. In Portugal and Spain they are frequently cooked up with chorizo and other spicy meats.

If you want to try catching your own, first you need to locate a likely razor clam bed. There’s nothing like a bit of local knowledge, so do some research and ask around first, but sandy, flat beaches are their preferred habitat. You’ll need to check tide tables and aim to be on the beach at the beginning of the slack, low, spring tide (the very lowest tide) in order to have an hour at the lowest water line. Then look for little keyhole-shaped holes in the sand.

Using a large spouted bottle, pour several tablespoons of fine table salt into the hole and wash it down with water from a squeezy washing-up-liquid bottle or similar. The high salt levels irritate the clam and after a few moments you should see the surface being pushed upwards before the top erupts out of the sand. Grip the shell between two fingers, then firmly but slowly pull the clam out from its burrow. Make sure you grab the shell quickly and hold on; if you let go or wait too long they will bury themselves back in almost as quickly as they came out.

Your razor clam should be at least 10 centimetres (4-inches) in length. If it is, put it in your bucket. If not, put him back for another day.

If you draw blank or don't fancy the bracing weather, your local fishmonger should be able to help you out, with a bit of notice.

Razor clams are a little fiddly to prepare but once the clams are steamed open, the meat will pull easily from the shell and the inedible parts can be cut away.

Lay the clam flat on the board with the rounder end to the left, cut this off close to the dark sac. Lift the frilly wing up and slice off the cylindrical piece of meat with the pointed end. Now trim the wing away from the dark sac. Scrape off any odd bits of sand as you go. Now the meat can be sliced into halfcentimetre pieces ready to use. If you’re unsure at any point, the internet has plenty of useful videos on fish and shellfish preparation.

By Well Seasoned, Feb 13 2019 02:08PM

We're creeping slowly towards the warmer weather of spring. Although we may well still have some snow and sleet before we get there, we're starting to notice some of those early, welcome signs. In the last blog we looked at snowdrops. Today, we listen out for the beginnings of the dawn chorus...

The chorus of garden birdsong signals the start of the mating season as our feathered friends start looking to attract partners and defend their breeding territories. Beginning with blackbirds and robins in late February, other species will gradually join the chorus through to late May, when it reaches a glorious crescendo.

The sunrise singing provides a fascinating insight into the world of our birds. With a little patience, you’ll soon learn to distinguish individual species and the order in which they start to sing each day. They stick to a fairly rigid timetable and you might well prefer simply to soak up the atmosphere as you lie in bed – it begins around 4.30 a.m. this month, and as early as 3 a.m. as we reach the early summer.

The order of the birds song is dictated by the foods they eat and their ability to see in the low morning light. The early birds (blackbirds and robins) literally do catch the worms. These species have comparatively large eyes compared to their bodies and are able to see in the earliest, dim light of dawn. As the sun rises and light levels increase, insect-eaters (wrens) wake from their slumber. Finally, the seed-eaters (finches and sparrows) take their time and wait until just before daybreak.

So, expect to hear, in order:

Blackbird – monotonous chink, chink, chink followed by a distinct, low-pitched melody

Robin – high-pitched tick, tick, tick, followed by a cascade of warbling notes

Wren – chur, chur, churrrrr (at an impressive volume for such a small bird)

Chaffinch – distinct pink, pink, pink, followed by one of several flourishes

House sparrow – chattering and repetitive chirrup, chirrup.


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