For the last week I have spent many feral hours indulging in foraging and fishing in the delightfully radiant and balmy summer sun, making the most of the extraordinary weather in the Outer Hebrides. Foraging successes were numerous, although the pinnacle was the delight of foraging for and cooking with razor clams.
Summer arrived this week coincidentally with spring tides. Syzygy brings extremes of high and low water that offer up numerous though infrequent opportunities for foragers and anglers.
Fly fishing combining fortuitous foraging
Bright and sunny conditions were less than ideal for fly fishing, but nonetheless, we visited some of our favourite spots, huge lochs within the remote interior of North Uist, encountering no one. The fish were certainly not ‘on’, but I turned this to my advantage and I grabbed foraging opportunities that I stumbled across along the way.
The unremitting sunshine has resulted in a sudden leap forward for many plants and fruits. We may not have the burgeoning hedgerows found in other parts of the UK, but there are plenty foraging opportunities here nonetheless. On one outing to a favourite loch, Loch Hunder, I found a dense blaeberry patch and turned my attention to gathering these wild berries during a lean fishing phase. This was time well spent as The Man Named Sous continued to fish and caught nothing during my foraging hour! The delicious blaeberries and associated recipes will be discussed in a future post.
Similarly, on a scorching and opportunistic visit to Geireann Mill following on from the North Uist Angling Club open day and barbecue, I sensed the fishing would be almost pointless. As we drew up alongside the loch inlet in the car, I could smell meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) before I saw it and instantly knew how my time would be best spent. I was not wrong, my fishless companions later returned to the car but I had a bagful of sweet bounty.
The meadowsweet was turned into cordial, as were kind deliveries of elderflowers from the mainland (thank you Fi and mum). Both cordials will feature in recipes in future posts and I am still experimenting with both.
A return to Geireann Mill on another evening when the heat of the day had passed (can’t believe I can use this phrase in reference to weather here) was simply stunning. As the sun set and the full moon rose simultaneously, there was not a ripple on the water, save for fish breaking the surface to feed on big hatches of caddisflies skimming or landing on the surface. The silence was only broken by cacophonous yet plaintive calls of red-throated divers on the water and in between these, the gentle splashes of surfacing trout. Yet again I know that on evenings like this, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Although we did try sea fishing too, it was not quite as fruitful as expected with mackerel very thin on the ground at our usual haunts. The high tide was so big, we suspect it was not the optimal time and we may have missed any incoming shoals. We were content to give sea fishing another shot at Loch Eport, enjoying the sun and the views but with nothing to show for our efforts, it was time to head home for a barbecue. My parents were visiting, and how novel it was that we could manage to have a barbecue, as well taking my dad on numerous fishing outings. The weather hasn’t always been so kind during their visits.
Spoots, storms and samphire
Samphire is now in optimal condition for foraging, growing bushy, fleshy and succulent without yet turning woody and tired. I am enjoying it so much that I hope to preserve some before the end of growing season for use later. Just now, I pick it and eat it the same day and used it recently in a recipe with pollack and scallop corals. The plentiful supply near our house is very convenient and the low tides provided the tantalizing prospect of a seasonal coupling of razor clams and samphire.
I joined professional forager Fi Bird on South Uist for a spoot (razor clam) foraging expedition and some gathering tips. I would highly recommend Fi’s book ‘The Forager’s Kitchen’ as an invaluable resource for foraging tips and recipes. My review of this excellent book can be read here.
Paddling thigh deep in water and engrossed in spoot-spotting, I was vaguely aware of the towering black cumulonimbus and accompanying stormy rumblings to the south, but wasn’t quite anticipating the hour-long rainstorm of biblical proportions that followed. A couple of families on the beach cleared off during the deluge leaving us two lonesome foragers. At that stage there didn’t seem to be any point in stopping since we were drookit within a few minutes anyway. The spoots were justifiably wary and pouring salt down the telltale keyholes in the sand where they lay buried yielded a defiant spurt of water, the spoot staying put.
Eventually we hit a couple of good patches, firmly gripping and delicately pulling out the spoots subtly sticking out of the sand. Our hands eventually turning blue, it was becoming difficult to find and grip our quarry and the situation was on the verge of descending into what might very appropriately be called lunacy, so we called it a day. Soaked to the skin and bedraggled, Fi’s carefully prepared picnic looked like a better option accompanied by a cup of coffee and we retreated indoors to warm up and enjoy Fi’s smoked salmon samphire studded bagels.
It was a fun and enlightening afternoon, though no photos were possible as phones / cameras would have quickly died in the deluge! Fi kindly gave me our modest mollusc bounty for dinner. I got home to discover hardly any rain had fallen on North Uist although it was still quite muggy and overcast.
Razor clams with samphire, summer vegetables and herbs
The last thing any cook wants to do in the middle of summer is stand over a hot stove cooking for long periods. This recipe avoids the need, as does the main ingredient of razor clams, by default. The style of cooking and construction of this recipe is the kind of cuisine I get most pleasure from making: very fresh ingredients sustainably sourced by hand, vegetables and herbs picked from the garden minutes before preparation, intricate and time-consuming preparation with precision cooking of only a few minutes required to bring the dish together.
This à la minute cooking style is one I have favoured lately and is perhaps the signature style of Tom Kitchin whose recipe this is (albeit tweaked a bit). Tom may be considered a celebrity chef, but it was very reassuring when we ate at ‘The Kitchin’ to see that he was present, leading his brigade in service. His undeniably Scottish take on fine dining with complex yet honest dishes containing the finest fresh seasonal produce made the dining experience one of the best we have had recently, so another recommendation.
The chorizo used is very good quality, coming from Lupe Pintos Deli in Edinburgh. A little goes a long way, so depending on the style and potency of the chorizo, more may be added.
Serves 4 as a starter or light main course
8 razor clams, washed
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
110 ml white wine
1 tsp rapeseed oil
1 courgette, cut into 0.5 cm dice
1 carrot, cut into 0.5 cm dice
60 g samphire, rinsed
40 g cooking chorizo, cut into 0.5 cm cubes
110 ml double cream
110 g young broad beans (podded weight), podded and shelled
50g finely chopped parsley
3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1 lime, zest and juice
25 g unsalted butter
100g squid, prepared and cleaned, cut into triangles
salt and pepper
3 springs of dill, finely chopped
1 bunch chopped fresh chives
1 bunch of chervil, leaves only, chopped
2 springs of bronze fennel, finely chopped
a few springs of basil (I used Red Rubin for colour), gently torn
a few chive flowers
Get everything chopped and prepared ready to go as this recipe comes together in a flash.
First, prepare and cook the spoots. NB The spoots look just as indecent when cooked as they do when you pull them from the sand.
- Heat a large saute pan or similar (with a tight-fitting lid) over a high heat. When hot, add the razor clams, shallots and wine and quickly cover.
- Steam for 30 seconds (no more or you will get Pirelli-textured spoots), they will open.
- Strain the cooking liquid into a pan and keep aside.
- Take the spoots from the shells when cool enough, remove the digestive tract (worth an online search for tips if you don’t know how to do this), slice the cooked clams thinly at an angle and set aside. Keep the shells for plating up.
- Heat a teaspoon of rapeseed oil in a pan and over a medium heat, add the chopped carrot and courgette, broad beans, parsley and anchovies. Fry gently for 3-4 minutes and set aside.
- Take the clams cooking liquid, heat and reduce by half before adding the chorizo, cream, samphire, carrots, courgettes, parsley and anchovies. Stir and simmer until thickened slightly.
- Add the lime juice and zest and butter until melted then strain off about 1/4 of the sauce into another pan and add the spoots. Keep warm.
- Using the other teaspoon of rapeseed oil, heat a pan to cook the squid. Season the squid and add to the pan once it is smoking and cook for 1-2 minutes until opaque, no more or squid will be rubbery.
- Add the squid pieces to the spoots and sauce.
- To serve, put 2 shells on each plate, spoon the spoot and squid mixture into the shell and drizzle the veg and sauce around before garnishing with the herbs and chive flowers.