Saejogae in English is “egg cockle,” but literally translates to “bird clam” in Korean, since the meat inside the shell resembles a bird’s beak. (Egg and bird—funny how language works like that sometimes.) In different regions of Korea, saejogae is also nicknamed seagull clam, duck clam and sparrow clam.
They’re also thought of as the “king” among the clams, just as lobster is considered “king” of the crustaceans. Saejogae is one of the earliest clams to arrive after the frigid winter, a sort of harbinger of the spring clam season. These plump, sweet and nutty-flavored gastropods start being harvested from the beginning of December, when the cold winter wind starts to blow, though January to March is the peak season for the plumpest clams and the best flavor. After March, they start breeding, and like many other species, become flavorless. You can find saejogae all along the west coast, south coast and Jeju Island, but the saejogae from Namdang Village in South Chungcheong province along the west coast are best-known amongst Koreans.
In fact, saejogae has been more of a recent trend for Korean consumers—while locals may have eaten them, commercial harvesting of saejogae was largely earmarked for export to Japan. But as relative finances have bettered in Korea and tastes are turning homeward once again, interest in saejogae has surged.
And with good reason. We ate our saejogae grilled, but there are all kinds of ways to eat this delicious clam.
How to eat:
Saejogae has a huge sand pocket inside, so you need to ask the seller to clean it, otherwise it can ruin your whole dish. Once cleaned, you can cook it however you want. Koreans love to eat it as shabu shabu, which is poaching lightly in a vegetable or other kind of stocks. In this way, rather than using spicy sauces, you can taste the full flavor of the clam. Saejogae shabu shabu is very famous in Namdang-ri, so if you are planning to spend your late winter or early spring in Korea, it would be exciting to plan a saejogae shabu shabu trip to the beautiful west cost of Korea.
Saejogae shabu shabu (recipes/link)
A note on price:
Saejogae, just like their reputation as king of the clams, cannot be farmed. They’re too picky. So saejogae is quit e pricey. It is depends on the catch, but it usually costs 55,000 won/kg, without the shells. However, it is definitely worth your while—you don’t want to miss these sweet and juicy flavors!