Key Ingredient: Zoe Schor faces "the strangest animal on the planet" | Key Ingredient | Chicago Reader

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Key Ingredient: Zoe Schor faces "the strangest animal on the planet"

Challenged to make a dish with geoduck, the Ada St. chef prepares the enormous clam two ways.


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  • Jonathan Austin Daniels
  • Geoduck

The Chef: Zoe Schor (Ada St.)
The Challenger: Erick Williams (MK)
The Ingredient: Geoduck

The world's largest burrowing clam, the geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck) can weigh 14 pounds and live for more than 150 years—though most of the commercially available ones average two pounds apiece. Challenged by MK's Erick Williams to create a recipe with the clams, Zoe Schor of Ada St. calls them "probably the strangest animal that exists on the planet . . . the ugliest thing I've ever seen, I swear to god.

"It looks like a giant clam, and there's this long—what they call a siphon coming out of it," Schor says. "It gives it a little bit of a phallic appearance."

The geoduck is native to the west coast of North America, but is most popular in southeast Asia, particularly China. Because it's not a particularly common ingredient in the midwest, Schor had trouble tracking down the clams; she finally located some at a store on Argyle.

  • Julia Thiel
  • Zoe Schor

"When you get it, it's still alive," Schor says. "You have to hang it over the edge of a sink or something and let the siphon kind of relax." As the geoduck relaxes, the siphon gets longer; the one Schor had was several feet long. "It's wild," she says. "It relaxes very hard."

The taste of a geoduck is similar to that of a clam, Schor says, but the texture makes it more interesting. "The siphon has almost a crunchy texture, like a pickle. It's got that crisp bite to it. And then what they call the mantle, which is the part that's inside the shell, has a texture that's really creamy, like sea urchin. I didn't think it would be quite so tender; I thought it would be a little bit tougher because it's so big."

Schor came up with two different preparations: a ceviche and a pasta.

After blanching the geoduck for 30 seconds (to make it easier to remove the skin), she carefully sliced off the shell, removed the internal organs, and peeled the skin from the siphon. To make the ceviche, Schor diced up some of the meat from the siphon and marinated it with lime juice for several minutes, then tossed it with olive oil, Fresno chile peppers, red onion, cilantro, salt, and pepper. She served it with popcorn seasoned with chile powder and salt. "It's a great summer dish," she says. "A lot of heat, a lot of lime, a little bit of crunch from both the popcorn and the clam itself."

Geoduck ceviche with spiced popcorn - JULIA THIEL
  • Julia Thiel
  • Geoduck ceviche with spiced popcorn

For the pasta dish, Schor thinly sliced the mantle of the geoduck. She blanched fresh peas, cooked them in butter, and then added freshly cooked pasta to the pan along with a little of the cooking water to emulsify the butter. After transferring the contents of the pan to a bowl, she added the geoduck to let it warm through, then topped the dish with lemon zest and finely chopped chives.

Fresh pasta with geoduck and peas - JULIA THIEL
  • Julia Thiel
  • Fresh pasta with geoduck and peas

The geoduck, she says, "has that flavor of the sea . . . it's got a brininess to it." As weird-looking as the clam is, Schor says, it's not difficult to work with. "I'd put it on the menu if geoduck wasn't so darn expensive."

Who's next:

Schor has challenged Lee Kuebler of Libertyville's Milwalky Trace to create a dish with goat testicles. "Something obscure, but not absolutely impossible to find," Schor says. "Any place that has goats has goat testicles at some point or another, right?"

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