Washington State Oysters: Totten Inlet Virginica, Totten Inlet Pacific, Kumamoto and Olympia Oysters
When I think of the briny goodness of Pacific Northwest Oysters, my mouth starts to water. Actually, I pretty much feel that way about any oyster from anywhere. Last month, I had the honor of going on an oyster forage with food legend Jon Rowley. In 2008, Saveur Magazine named Northwest native Rowley one of the 100 best things in food. They called him the “Disciple of Flavor,” for his constant pursuit of the best foods at their peak flavor, a true tastemaker. He’s championed once-obscure foods like Alaska Copper River Salmon and Washington State’s Olympia Oysters and brought them into the public consciousness. He has cooked for Julia Child, (she called him the fish missionary), worked with Ruth Reichel, and was featured in Ruth’s show, “Diary of a Foodie.” He has influenced and educated some of the most sophisticated palettes in the world. His résumé reads like a Who’s Who in Food. And, in fact, he was actually named a Who’s Who in Food when he was inducted into the James Beard Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America in 1987.
Chapman Cove in South Puget Sound
On the appointed day, Jon and I started our oyster forage at 5 am. We headed south to Chapman Cove in South Puget Sound on Taylor Shellfish oyster beds, one of the many spots from which Jon likes to get oysters. We met up with a crew from Taylor Shellfish and checked some of the oldest oyster beds in the area dating back to 1890’s. We scouted around that locale for a while until just before noon, when we landed at Xinh’s, a clam and oyster house located in the small town of Shelton, WA. Xinh’s is run by a one-of-a-kind Vietnamese chef named Xinh. Her food was incredible, the combinations of flavors inspired by her own food traditions were wonderful. Trust me -go there. Her marinated mussels in tahini sauce were like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. Then she brought out baked oysters topped with bacon and hoisin sauce. The struggle to photograph those and not devour them first was fierce. The entire day with Rowley was like this, tasting a sampling of fresh foods and experiencing them at their peak moment of flavor. It was a journey of discovery, a pursuit of something both pure and raw. We picked blackberries from the side of the road and ate them on the spot. On our hike out to one of the bays, Jon found beach asparagus, or sea beans, growing wild – and he picked some so I could try it. For a mid-day snack, he had peaches from California’s Frog Hollow Farm flown in the day before at peak ripeness – perfect for a morning blood sugar boost. I could go on and on about my day with Jon. Like climbing to the top of a mountain and discovering an unexpected breathtaking view, it was better than I anticipated, with more color, and texture and light then I could have ever imagined. That’s Jon – one day with him and my life even tasted better.
Kumamoto oyster bed, most productive Kumamoto bed in the world
Jon picking beach asparagus
Baked oysters topped with bacon and hoisin sauce
Marinated mussels in Xinh’s special tahini sauce
Chef Xinh Dwelley
Xinh’s famous oyster stew
Peaches from California’s Frog Hollow Farm