By Barbara LaBoe The Daily News
LONG BEACH — Sometimes, size really does matter.
Especially in Long Beach, where city leaders claim to have the World’s Longest Beach as well as the World’s Largest Frying Pan and the World’s Largest Spitting Clam.
Saturday, city leaders are upping the ante even more, with not one but two giant frying plans for the Razor Clam Festival, which was revived last year after a decades-long hiatus.
The iconic giant frying pan, which has served as backdrop for numerous tourist photos, will remain on display only across from Marsh’s Free Museum. A block away, though, an equally huge pan will be cooking up clam fritters.
How big is big? Eight feet in diameter and 600 pounds, said festival organizer Randy Dennis of the Dennis Co. The “new” frying pan — commissioned by the city in 1994 — is so large it’s sometimes flipped over and used as a small stage, according to the festival’s website. This is the first year the new pan, which is divided into quarters, will be used in the clam festival.
Saturday the stainless steel pan will be sizzling as Ilwaco High School Culinary Arts students compete for the best clam fritter recipe.
The secret to a good clam fritter is temperature. The pan must be hot enough to cook the fritter all the way through but cool enough to keep the outside from burning, said Laurie Anderson, who teaches the Culinary Arts class with David Campiche. They also own and run The Shelburne Inn Bed and Breakfast in Long Beach.
The high school course teaches everything students need to know to run a restaurant, Anderson said. When they heard about the chance to use the giant frying pan, students were extra excited. They’ve been perfecting their recipes for the past several months in a heated but friendly competition, she said.
The old frying pan was heated with wood, but local propane company Active Enterprises Inc. will provide the heat on Saturday, letting students control just how hot their section of the pan gets, Dennis said. A trial run last week worked well, he said.
The fritters will be judged by three Seattle chefs based on appearance, aroma, flavor and texture.
Small samples also will be shared with the crowd — while they last.
The city first showcased a giant frying pan in 1940, when city leaders cooked up what they billed, naturally, as the World’s Largest Clam Fritter. The first year the city had to borrow a pan from Chehalis, which cooked up a 7,200-egg omelet in 1931. By 1941 Long Beach had commissioned its own giant pan. The resulting festival featuring clam fritters became an annual tradition. The frying pan also hit the road in 1948, being towed behind a dairy truck during a regional tour designed to drum up tourism.
The festivals died out in the late 1940s, but last year Dennis and others brought the celebration back.
Clamming remains a popular and fun family event on the peninsula, and Dennis said the community wants to showcase clamming as well as Long Beach businesses. Clamming lessons offered as part of the festival filled up weeks ago, he proudly noted.
Organizers also agreed to make it an annual event, as long as the frying pan returned and the city’s large spitting clam statue could be restored. Both are back this year, and Dennis said the event should continue for several years to come.
“It’s all about clam digging, mermaids and clam chowder,” Dennis said. “What’s not to love?”