This past weekend was the 13th Annual Razor Clam Festival at Ocean Shores.
It was a beautiful weekend, sunny and 60 degrees every single day, with that delightful ocean breeze that makes you think of sand in your shoes and subconsciously warns you to watch out for seagull poop.
We went to the beach primarily for relaxation, razor clam digging and to test out a loaner prop for the boat. My Rooster is unhappy with the pick up and planing that his mighty Trophy is currently achieving.
Taking the boat also means crabbing, and for us that means many, many Dungeness Crabs.
I went to the beach for one reason only.
The 13th Annual Amateur Clam Chowder Contest.
Over the last two years I have toyed with the idea of entering that contest. Me. The obsessive watcher of Chopped and any other Food Network cooking contest. Me. The one who not so secretly dreams of being “The Next Food Network Star”. Me, maker of the best clam chowder on the rainy side of Washington State.
I’ve been told as much by many of our friends and family. I’ve witnessed it in my kitchen, on the soup line that forms whenever I bust out a bag of frozen Razor Clams. Grown men fight over that last scoop, and my office men cry when they don’t get a bowl for lunch the next day.
I had every reason to think I would win.
We went down to the Chamber of Commerce Offices on Friday to drop off my application, and of course application fee of $25. Yes, I know that’s a bit steep for an amateur Ocean Shores based cooking contest, but really….. I didn’t care. There were cash prizes of undetermined amounts (dependent on the number of entries), certainly more than my measly $25. Barbara, the nice woman who took my application and gave me instructions on when and where to bring the clam chowder was more than helpful, and encouraged me to make a sign naming and representing my dish.
From there it was off to the thrift store to find the cutest retro crock pot ever, in which to present my winning medley of the sea.
That afternoon, during a blissful crab catching boat ride with my Rooster, we named my clam chowder. Our brainstorming session led us to settle on “Clam-a-Rama Ding Dong”, because why not? Joy’s Clam Chowder (pfffffffffft boring), Clam Cauldron (not bad, but lacking a cauldron it made little sense)…….. Clam-a-Rama Ding Dong has just enough silliness and is definitely memorable, although the childishness of it had me thinking about changing it right up until the last minute.
I decided to make the soup on Friday night, giving our willing guests Connie and Dunc (and my Rooster and I) some time to critique it in case it needed some final adjustments before the competition. As always, my cup overfloweth…. LOL.
I chopped yellow onions until I cried and I cut the celery slowly to ensure perfect knife cuts, since consistent sized veggies are so important on the Food Network. I pan fried the thick smoked bacon at a low temperature until it was perfect.
I had to hide that delicious bacon, carefully encased in grease eliminating paper towels, deep in the cupboard where my sneaky, sneaky Rooster would not be tempted to pilfer it one morsel at a time.
I cubed the Yukon Gold Potatoes with the precision of an engineer.
Take note here amateur clam chowder makers, Yukon Gold are the way to go. They maintain a good firmness when cooked and have a buttery quality unmatched by other far inferior potatoes.
I scissored the razor clams down to bite size pieces, and I gently poured the half and half when it was time. I seasoned with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, minced garlic and thyme at each stage.
My willing victims loved it! The suggestions for improvements being; more clams, more bacon, more seasoning and my own personal thought, it was too thick. Though aside from that criticism (which I practically had to beg for), each of my pre-judges declared it to be delicious and all of them ate more than one bowl.
Saturday, after crabbing in the morning in the glorious sunshine and clamming in the afternoon (my Rooster and I wearing the cutest hoodies ever), I was back in the kitchen for soupy adjustments.
I shelled and carefully cleaned one limit (15) of our freshly caught razor clams, and just as carefully cooked up another half pound of bacon. Deciding against heating up the entire pot of chowder again led me to cook off the clams in milk, with the cooked bacon and more seasoning. Once the clams cooked (it only takes minutes), I set the pot aside to cool for adding to the already prepared cold clam chowder in the refrigerator.
I even ate a small bowl of my clam chowder that afternoon, reheated in the microwave, just to judge whether or not the thickness had lasted through refrigeration and reheating, because sometimes it doesn’t. This was the indicator of how much of the clammy milk I would need to add in order to thin it out.
With the new additions, my chowder was excellent. If I do say so myself.
Just as I was finishing up, Barbara from the Chamber of Commerce called me with a reminder to be at the convention center the next day between 10:30 and 11:30 am. She once again mentioned the importance of me making a sign.
And it was a good thing she did, because I had forgotten all about it.
So instead of helping to pull up the evening crab catch, or getting to take a much needed nap, I went on my merry way with a posterboard, some razor clam shells, a black marker, glue and some sand. I do love me an art project. 🙂 Check out my final product below.
Sunday morning, I woke up early to scoop the chowder into the crockpot and begin the re-warming process. I was nervous for no reason. There was to be no performance, no discussion, no tv crew, just me and my competitors scooping soup into bowls for judges. All the same…… I was nervous.
I took my crockpot to the convention center (and as an added bonus, I didn’t spill it in the truck on the way), found myself an outlet and a spot on the table, and I placed my sign. At that time there were only two other entries present.
I stood back and watched both of my new found enemies stir their pots.
The first clam chowder I saw was very, very thin, more of a clam nectar if you will (not a problem I thought to myself). The other had a nice thick pot of chowder, but her soup looked as if it had gone through the food processor, there was nary a chunk of potato or clam stirred up. She also had a ton of dill floating on top (cha-ching, I thought to myself, I wonder kind of prize money I’ll be taking home?)
Neither of those ladies had a sign to display.
Happy with my prospects of winning I headed back to the beach house with a bottle of champagne. Mimosas for everybody! I didn’t have to be back for judging until 2 pm.
My Rooster and I returned to the festival with time to spare before judging. My chowder had gotten a bit hot on warm, but stirring it up and turning it off remedied that potential disaster, there was no sign of any burning.
Six clam chowders were now showing, and still I was the only one with a sign. We were each given two labeled cups to dish up for the judges. I gave them each a hearty scoop and scoffed to myself as I watched one other contestant clean the edges of her paper cup for presentation and yet another carefully place some cilantro on top (cilantro in clam chowder?).
There was nothing to do but wait. The two judges were thorough and I dare say professional in their actions. They were spooning the chowder around judging thickness, they tasted each one multiple times. They made notes on individual papers and gave two scores of up to ten based on taste and visual appeal. A perfect score would have been 40.
In the meantime…… my love affair with the media grew again. A man from the North Beach Times approached me about my sign. He told me that he had a written a story during the week to advertise the Razor Clam Festival’s activities and the contests for both professional and amateur clam chowder. He had named his article “Clam-a-Rama Ding Dong”. How about that for a coincidence?
This led to him taking my photo with my sign, my name and where I was from. I guess I will be featured in another newspaper soon. 😉
After an unbearable wait, it was finally time to announce the winners, and with much fanfare, an announcer of “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” caliber……… did not say my name.
I was fairly devastated. I’m pretty sure the contest had to have been rigged. I was feeling like a bit of a poor sport, peaking with the momentary thought of spilling my entire crockpot across the convention center floor “accidentally”.
The thing is that the second and third place winners were locals.
The winner had spent the entire contest period running about telling everyone within earshot how she had narrowly survived cancer, and how her husband had just beat the odds of a 1% chance to live due to a bunch of blood clots. I’m not saying they weren’t telling the truth, but I am saying that it had nothing to do with clam chowder. They both appeared to be perfectly healthy to me.
I don’t want to seem callous, but next year I’m wearing an eye patch.
I may just still be the slightest bit upset. 🙁
Here’s the kicker, in case you are judging me over thinking that sick people shouldn’t be given the prize just for being sick……
Maury tasted the winning chowder. He declared it overcooked and the clams tough to chew. It was also slightly tan in color. He told me mine was better. He is not the ultimate judge, I get that. But he is blatantly honest, and it’s all I’ve got to go on.
Thus ends the disappointing tale of my first try…….. It will not be my last try.
P.S. After clam digging that night, we all went back to the house and had my clam chowder for dinner. Guess what? Every drop was eaten up. Everybody thought it was delicious.
In case you need a good clam chowder recipe, here it is, in general, no secrets revealed. 🙂
Razor Clam Chowder (Joy Donohue)
1 pound Bacon
1 Large Onion
4-6 stalks of Celery
3-4 cloves garlic
6 -8 Yellow Potatoes
½ Gallon Half and Half
Salt to Taste
Pepper to Taste
1 Teaspoon Italian Seasoning
1 Teaspoon White Pepper (more to taste)
Salt and Pepper to Taste
15 Razor Clams, cleaned and chopped
or 1 large can Baby Clams
1 Bottle Clam Juice
Chopped Green Onions
Cook and crumble 1 pound bacon, set aside
Reserve some bacon fat for browing onion, celery and garlic chopped to medium dice. Once veggies are cooked…..
Cube potatoes (skin on), add to onion mixture.
Fill pot to top of potatoes with water, bring to a boil until soft (20 minutes)…….
Add cold Half and Half and clam juice to pot when potatoes are soft, return to boil, reduce heat to simmer
Add razor clams (raw) and cooked bacon
Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Season to taste
Serve with oyster crackers and chopped green onions