Welcome to Uwajimaya, the delicious, delectable, fun, quirky, and deliriously exotic Asian market near Portland. There is almost always some kind of excitement going on outside. Today is "Philippines Day," but we skip the festivities to go inside and hunt down the two items on our list: giant clams and celery root.
The place is a true market. There are piles of vegetables and tropical fruits, many of which I've never seen before. There are boxes of tamarinds and packages of chicken feet, tankfuls of live crabs, containers of freshly made seaweed salad, and all sorts of spices and sauces and savory exotic ingredients. And there are geoducks (pronounced gooeyduck). Big ones. They are the most phallic of creatures, these mollusks with double-siphoning necks so long that they cannot retract them into their shells.
You know it's going to be a great day when your very own Naked Chef/Survivorman tells the white-coated fish monger behind the counter, "No thanks, don't bother cleaning it. I want to kill it and clean it myself. I need to learn how to do this."
Back at the ranch, it's party time. Time to play with your meat. Time to slip the big boy out of its skin. (Rinse the neck under hot water to remove the tough outer skin, which just slips right off). Time to sacrifice for stew, pull the slick, bulbous guts from the meaty neck, count the rings on the shell to determine its age (about 30) feel a little bad for a minute for eating this amazing creature that can live up to 140 years. At last, time to slice and dice and kiss and canoodle and cook that baby into the finest of chowders. Here's a recipe, but note that a combination of clam juice and turkey stock works well and that you may want to thicken with a butter-flour roux or some cornstarch if you prefer a thicker chowder.
You know it's going to be a good day when you feel the crunch of oyster crackers in your teeth, taste the perfection of fresh clam on your tongue, melt at the sensation of velvety, buttery, creamy broth on your lips, all while formulating your first word, chowder steam rising above the Scrabble board.
And the next morning, when there is nothing left of that beast but a bulge in your belly, you know just how great a day it really was. Because there are pictures to prove it.