Oysters – A Washington Twofer!

a view to savor

We spent the past few weekends in a food and wine haze, and while I loved every minute of it, but am ready to admit you can have too much of a good thing.  Recently, we attended a wine tasting at Quivira Vineyards in Sonoma, County, sampling plenty of delicious food paired with the winery’s latest releases.  I always enjoy this event because its interesting to see what foods that the winery thinks are the best to pair with their releases. Of course, I would never argue with anyone determining that oysters and wines were a natural combination and quickly concur that their choice of oysters were fantastic when paired with their wines.  I never got my question answered as to why Washington oysters, when Tomales Bay oysters were close at hand, but as I got to further sample different varieties I was certainly not going to complain.

delicious gem oysters

They offered up two succulent types of oysters to accompany their Sauvignon Blanc, both from Washington State:  Gem Oysters and Eagle Rock Oysters (Totten Inlet).  Oh my, having access to unlimited oysters is a dangerously good thing.  In my personal commitment to educate myself on the vast array of beautiful oysters I determined a bit of research beyond the tasting kind was in order.

impage from parks.wa.gov

Both of these oysters came from the southern part of the Puget Sound near Olympia.  According to Rowan Jacobsen in his book, A Geography of Oysters, each inlet adds its own character to the oysters, but all oysters from this area of the South Puget Sound share some common characteristics:  “full, rich, intense, more sweet than salty, a hint of cooked greens or seaweed, bordering on musky.  Its like a sea version of collards with pork fat.”  I’m not sure about musky, but seaweed was definitely a description I’d use for the oysters we sampled, and the Gems were the more sweet of the two.

Given that this area is about 200 miles from open sea, the water’s salinity does not significantly impact to the flavor.  What does have influence are the nutrient and algae rich rivers, tidal zones, and mud flats that make up this area, and why each inlet and beach offers its own unique contributions to taste.

Early in the oyster farming practice in this area, the oysters were harvested using the rack and bag approach but while the bag protected them from predictors, the lack of abuse by the waves never allowed their shells to toughen up, so now a hybrid system is often used, that allows them to grow until they reach a size where they can survive being in the sea.  They start out in the rack and bag and get fattened and toughened up along the beach.  Oysters grown in this area grow at a much faster rate than their brethren in the Willapa Bay or Hood Canal.

Gem Oysters have a creamy sweet taste that we really enjoyed, however it was lacking in toothiness.  We shamelessly stood in front of the booth and took the oysters as soon as they were ready.

Also called Chelsea Gems, these oysters come from the Eld Inlet, and are known for for growing fast, fat and sweet. These oysters are grown using the rack and bag technique, and are ready for consumption in only five months.

Eagle Rock Oysters

Eagle Rock Oysters are creamy and sweet with a definite sea weed flavor.  The taste was mild, especially when compared to the Gems.  Unlike the Chelsea Gems, these oysters are grown using the hybrid rack and bag + beach system and are ready for eating in about eight months. These oysters are also classified as Totten oysters, and here is where the seaweed descriptor comes to play because that was one of the first tastes I got from my initial sample.

If you are curious about Washington State’s oyster industry, this PDF offers some good information.

Both were delicious, but we thought the Gem Oysters edged out Eagle Rock in the taste department, while the Eagle Rock was definitely the meatier of the two if that is  your inclination.

They served these oysters with a selection of accompaniments, including the ubiquitous Tabasco sauce, a lovely apple jalapeno granita that I think was the hands down favorite, a homemade spicy seafood sauce and a vinegary concoction that jarred with the sweetness of the oysters and especially the wine.  Someday, I’ll post either post their recipe, or my interpretation of the granita, but in the mean time, I wanted to share a recipe from one of my favorite chef’s famous for his ways with creatures from the sea.  While in DC, I was lucky enough to have a meal prepared by Rick Stein, an English chef, and have been a fan of his cookbooks ever since.  This dish is divine, and I do not make it often enough.

Oysters in Tempura Batter with Sesame Seeds and Lime

Serves 4

Ingredients

Dipping Sauce

¼ c dark soy sauce
¼ c water
Juice of 1 lime

Oysters

20 Pacific oysters – (either oyster described above would work, but for this dish, I think the Eagle Rock would be a better choice)
Vegetable oil for deep frying

Tempura Batter

1/3 c flour
1/2 c cornstarch
pinch of salt
4 T toasted sesame seeds (Rick used the white seeds, but I’ve also used black for a more dramatic visual effect)
¾ c ice cold fresh soda water

lime wedges for serving

Directions

Mix all the ingredients for the dipping sauce together and set aside.  May want to make individual dipping containers.

Shuck the oysters, and keep the liquor for other uses.  Save the deeper, bottom shelves to serve the oysters in.

Heat the oil for deep frying to 375°F.  Make the batter ix by shifting the flour, cornstarch and salt together in a bowl.  Stir in the sesame seeds with the very cold soda water (the water must be both icy cold and fresh (full of bubbles) for the batter to be at its best).  Stir until only just mixed – do not over stir, and the batter should still be a bit lumpy.  The batter can be thinned with a bit more soda water if you think it is too thick, the ideal consistency is thin to the point of translucency.

Indiviudally dip the oysters into the batter and then into the hot oil.  Fry for 1 minute until golden brown.  Remove from the oil and then allow to drain briefly on paper towels.  Make sure the oil maintains its temperature between rounds, do not allow to cool.

Arrange the oysters in the bottom shells and serve with the dipping sauce.

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28 comments for “Oysters – A Washington Twofer!

  1. April 24, 2010 at 8:58 PM

    I see that you’ve been with a good wine company! Seafood matches in general with white wines, but I’m not an expert in oysters ;) The oysters with tempura and lime recipe sound very good!

    Have a great weekend,

    Gera

  2. April 24, 2010 at 10:30 PM

    Nice!!! I want some oysters now. It’s been way too long since I’ve had it. I want to try these variety.

  3. April 25, 2010 at 12:27 PM

    The first time I had oysters, I was convinced I would die :-. After drinking the salty water, I had some vinagrette with the oyster flesh and found them just,…palatable! These tempura’d boys sound interesting

  4. April 25, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    I so want to be your research assistant! I would be fully commited and very reliable lol. They look amazing and the recipes delicious as always!!

  5. April 25, 2010 at 5:59 PM

    How fun to taste and compare oysters! The apple jalapeno granita sounds fantastic too. And, to enjoy all of that with wine sounds like a lovely day.

  6. April 25, 2010 at 6:41 PM

    Another Quivira feast! You lucky bum! Man, I’m going to have to join that wine club for sure.

  7. April 25, 2010 at 7:25 PM

    oh wow. Is there anything more sensuous than oysters?! The Eagle Rock one…the way you describe it, my mouth just watered! And tempura oysters! OMG! How wonderful!

  8. April 25, 2010 at 9:16 PM

    The only oysters I have ever experienced are those found on Long Island. You really should try to make the Oyster Festival in Oyster Bay, It is fabulous!!! I would love to someday do an unbiased comparison. Your tempura sounds quite interesting and I would LOVE to see your rendition of the granita.

    Thanks for sharing. I’m sure I won’t find any oyster bars in Blackfoot, Idaho. However, you have me craving them, now!!!

  9. April 26, 2010 at 4:45 AM

    The sea version of collard greens with pork fat? How interesting! I know absolutely nothing about oysters (other than what you share here ;)) so a very informative post for me.

  10. April 26, 2010 at 5:17 AM

    Interesting as always and a MUST TRY mark on the recipe – I’ve fried them before, but not dipped them so this I will try. Any excuse to eat oysters is a good one!

  11. April 26, 2010 at 5:59 AM

    What a delicious posting this is. I am falling into the oyster shells and savoring each bite. Too much if a good thing, you say? Never!

  12. April 26, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    A great way to spend your weekends! Lucky you!

    I am afraid of raw oysters, but would definitely try that beautiful recipe! It sounds like such a refined and delicious way of preparing oysters!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  13. April 26, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    Thanks for this thoroughly guide on oysters!

    I love to eat them but now, I can’t anymore because I am allergic to them!!! What a pity!!!

    My husband loves to eat hem!! In nearly anyway possible!

    What a lovely read! thanks!

  14. April 26, 2010 at 5:21 PM

    Sigh … It’s almost the end of April yet you can still get frost bites in Chicago, am I supposed to feel sorry for LouAnn having too much a good thing these past few weekends in Sonoma? Harrumph.

    The recipe looks really good, though. Can’t wait for the apple jalapeno granita. Sounds so delicious and interesting!

  15. April 26, 2010 at 5:51 PM

    I’m sorry – I just don’t eat oysters! I eat with my eyes – and my eyes say no to oysters. I wish I was brave enough to try them. I grew up watching my Grandpa eat them like they were candy. But I still can’t.

    I’m happy to hear you’ve been enjoying all these great food events!

  16. April 26, 2010 at 6:32 PM

    Mmm…I love oysters but I haven’t had any in a long time! And I’ve never actually prepared them at home. I do need to try and your recipe sounds terrific!

  17. admin
    April 26, 2010 at 8:17 PM

    Gera – its been good wine company recently, to be sure. I’m not an oyster expert either, which is why when I sample, I take the opportunity to learn more about that oyster.

    Jenn – Hopefully you can remedy your oyster drought soon. If not in the US, maybe the Phillipines?

    Kitchen Butterfly – My first oyster encounter sounds similar, but I was not scared off, and have certainly learned to appreciate them the more I encounter those boys. The tempura oysters are divine, especially if you are not sure about raw oysters.

    Ruth – I’d love to have your company. Its funny, but after going some time without anything happening, everything seems to be happening at once. I’m just along for the ride =)

    Lisa – It was a lot of fun, mainly because I do not get the opportunity nearly enough! I have to take advantage of these events. The apple jalapeno granita was tasty, and I’m going to have to come up with a version.

    Carolyn – When it rain, it pours what can I say. Nothing, an absolute drought, than bam! A deluge of activity. You will have to join Quivira and then hopefully I can see you at the next event!

    Sophia – I’m with you, eating oysters is tops in the sensuality department, or at least darn close. The tempura oysters are truly tasty!

    Louise – I’d love to attend the Oyster Festival in Oyster Bay – would you be available to show me around? Would love to go with a native =) The pressure is on, I need to put on my mad scientist hat to recreate that granita.

    Lori – I’m no expert but I am using this opportunities to educate myself and share what I learn. Hopefully we’ll both come away a bit more educated as a result. If you ever make it back to CA we’ll have to go oyster tasting up in Point Reyes.

    Crystal – I”ve long since given up on making excuses. This recipe is delicious and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do – Rick Stein is a genius!

    Claudia – Not too much if you are able to pace yourself, but you have to understand, this event was the day before the Pebble Beach eating overload = Phew!

    Rosa – I’m not sure I’d trust myself to fix raw oysters, but this was an expert, and I have to say I do love them. Please try the recipe, I think you’ll really like it.

    Sophie – Ah that is most unfortunate to love something and then become allergic! I’m sorry!

    Leela – I know I sound most ungrateful for having such wonder opportunities and believe me, I appreciate that I am in a culinary mecca. All I can say is, I remember a post where you wrote about your somewhat checkered culinary experiences in San Francisco and as I read it I thought I really want to show Leela some of the places that make SF great. So consider this your invitation to escape the April frost and come and get a bit of a weather reprieve. Growing up in MN I understand your weather purgetory, but you are in a City that is no slouch in the foodie department.

    Reenie – I so appreciate you taking the time to read my post let alone comment if you hate oysters. Thank you!

    5 Star – Oysters are surprisingly easy, except I have not yet mastered the art of shucking, having a handy husband helps.

  18. April 26, 2010 at 11:18 PM

    I really hate it when I mouth an un-fresh or stale oyster…yucks!
    Needs to be shucked right in front of me.

  19. Lee
    April 27, 2010 at 3:37 AM

    Mmm…I love oysters but I haven’t had any in a long time! And I’ve never actually prepared them at home. I do need to try and your recipe sounds terrific!

  20. April 27, 2010 at 8:53 AM

    I don’t like oysters,but I always enjoy your posts ;-)

  21. April 27, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    I love oysters and admire your commitment to learning about this wonderful shell fish. I’ve had fried oysters once and thoroughly enjoyed them. This looks like a great recipe!

  22. April 28, 2010 at 12:25 AM

    Thank you for the report!
    Nice that you tried to describe different tastes and impressions.

    Cheers!

  23. April 28, 2010 at 4:37 AM

    We love oysters in this house, is there anything we do not like, lol!

    I had to shuck 1500 one night at an event I was hired for in St. Louis because no one else knew what to do, or either they did not want to touch them, lol…my hands were never the same, but I can still lift them to my mouth when we have them at home or out.

    Your post is a wonderful educational thing for us all!

    hmmm, wonder if I can get some when we go to Florida next week?

  24. April 29, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    I’ve never had oysters but the recipe sounds delicious!

  25. admin
    April 30, 2010 at 6:11 PM

    Tigerfish – I’m with you. Fresh is best!

    Lee – I wish I could claim credit for that recipe, but Rick Stein is genius – do try.

    Erica – You are so sweet!

    Christine – I figer with a name like OysterCulture, I need to be on top of these things.

    Bobbins – Thanks for stopping by!

    Chef E – Wow, your oyster experience sounds like my meatball adventure – made enough for 200 people – have never looked at them the same way. Good luck in Florida, but East Coast and West Coast oysters are two different types, indeed! Have a wonderful time.

    Azita – You have to try them at least once, just to say you did =)

  26. June 5, 2010 at 8:47 AM

    Thanks for this feature on Washington oysters. I’m lucky enough to live here and have such great places to find them. The wine in Washington is great, too, particularly the wine from Walla Walla.

    While my blog is mainly about Scandinavian food and culture, I do have a favorite mignonette recipe I posted on it that I’d like to share: http://outsideoslo.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/oysters/

  27. admin
    June 6, 2010 at 5:28 PM

    Hi D, thanks for taking the time to share the recipe, looks great!

  28. December 30, 2010 at 4:57 AM

    I find myself coming to your blog more and more often to the point where my visits are almost daily now!

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