Wow! What a gorgeous weekend we had in Seattle. I'm still reeling from all the sun and fun. What does one do when the sun shines in Seattle, you ask? Well...we had a really unique opportunity on Saturday to visit Hama Hama Oyster Co. for a U-pick oyster event. I had never done that before, but I am now officially hooked!
Hama Hama Oyster Co. is a commercial oyster farm based in Lilliwaup, WA at the mouth of the Hama Hama River. At low tide, the banks extend almost a mile into the Hood Canal. They are quite well known for their amazing oysters, so it was exciting to step out onto their oyster flats at low tide and literally pluck our dinner from the sand. Added bonus: The company has been family run since it started in 1922, so we had a chance to meet a few family members...never a bad thing to know your local oyster farmers!
Our wonderful guide took us out to the flats and taught us a lot about oysters, how they grow, what to look for when picking along with lots of other interesting facts about the ecology and other creatures living and feasting on the bounty of the Hama Hama and Hood Canal waters.
One of the first things our guide pointed out on the flats were bags of shells that had been inocculated with baby oysters...see all the tiny dots on the shell below? Baby oysters. The shells will be spread out all over the flats to grow the next generation of oysters for the farm.
We also got a quick lesson in how to spot a healthy oyster based on it's new growth. These are Pacific oysters which were brought to the west coast from Japan. Their new growth appears as a frill around the edge of the shell and has a gorgeous purple-pink iridescent sheen to it. So pretty!You can easily spot a Pacific oyster by it's ruffles and frills. (Washington's native oyster, the Olympia, is smaller and has nearly been replaced by Pacifics. It is only found in a handful of bays along the coast.)
In addition to oysters, there were plenty of other creatures to see...most of which were trying to eat the oysters too! We saw several kinds of sea stars, snails and even a pile of eggs resting on some seaweed.
By the end of our visit, we had given up counting how many oysters we had picked...the basket got heavy so we figured we had plenty. As it turned out, we had picked over five dozen oysters, a couple of butter clams and a few random mussels (mostly attached to our oysters!) To round out our purchase, we also picked up 3 kinds of smoked oysters, 3 crab cakes (made on-site by mom) and a jar of locally made pickled herring from their seafood shop. The smoked oysters didn't even make it to the car...we gobbled them all up in the parking lot.
The farm has a few picnic shelters with BBQs you can use to cook your oysters on the spot, but we opted to put ours on ice and take them home for dinner. I was so proud of myself for shucking my first oysters...not an easy task! After opening a bottle of champagne to go with them, we decided to invite some friends over to share. We shucked all the raw ones we could open and eat and put the rest on the grill. I had never done that before, but wow, were they great! We threw that last of the cooked oysters into a stew the next day. Yum!
The trick to successfully grilling the oysters, so they don't dry out, is to put them bowl side down over very low heat and close the lid on the grill. It takes about 8-10 minutes for the first oyster to open and that's when you take them all off. If the oysters are sputtering and sizzling, but not opening, the heat is too high. Another good tip is to put them on the grill with their hinges facing towards you, so that when they open, they shoot any liquid towards the back of the grill instead of on you. (Tips were courtesy of our oyster guide at Hama Hama.)
The remaining shells are now drying out in the sun...to be pulverized later as a calcium supplement for our chickens.
Hama Hama is having another U-pick day in May, so we are planning to go again. If you live in the Seattle area and like oysters, I highly recommend checking it out and making a day of it. They are also hosting an Oyster Rama on May 5th that sounds like a great time with oyster and wine tastings, seminars and a chance to dig for wild geoduck. Be sure to check out their blog for ticket info and more details.
Now that we are oyster picking pros, we're looking forward to many more shellfish picking excursions and are looking into getting a WA shellfish license, so we can forage our public beaches. The main difference with picking from public beaches is that you have to shuck them on the beach and leave the shells because baby oysters like to attach themselves to larger oyster shells. Leaving the shells allows the population to continue growing.
Have you ever picked your own oysters? Have a favorite recipe for fresh oysters? Hope you'll share some tips if you have them!