Sunday, March 18, 2012

What's in Season Sunday: Oysters

Awe, beautiful Willapa Bay. Driving along Highway 101 on a sunny Winter day feels like a deep exhale. The blue water and sky split the horizon and the breezy, salty air let's you know you are near the Pacific Ocean. Until about five years ago, Willapa Bay was never really a part of my mental map. After all, the bay is off the beaten path of the main north and south thoroughfare that is Interstate 5, and I had never ventured west of the freeway through Pacific County in lovely southwest Washington State. What a shame! This area is a testament to some of Washington State's most valued resources, including timber and shellfish. Willapa Bay is one of the cleanest bays in the United States and produces an abundance of mighty fine delicious oysters.

Did you know Washington leads all US states in oyster production? There are a lot of oysters out there for us to enjoy. It wasn't until recently, however, that I came around to eating and enjoying them. Most people either love them and think they are a wonderful local delicacy, or they think they are slimy and taste like salt water. Well, I'd like to say we are all right. Freshly shucked oysters taste like the ocean, have a creamy texture, and sweet tasting liquor (the liquid inside the shell that the oyster is happily living in). I love eating oysters raw (oyster shooters) with a little lemon squeeze and a small dollop of cocktail sauce. They are also tasty fried or smoked.

Not only are oysters delicious to eat, they do a great service to places like Willapa Bay. They are filter feeders. They filter an average of 25 gallons of water per day in search of food. They also filter out nutrients and toxins in the water that flow off the land and into the sea making them a very sustainable food choice! I wanted to see an oyster production facility first hand, so I looked one up online, and on my travels stopped at Ekone Oyster Company in Willapa Bay.

It was a small place. We walked inside through a hallway to a window where you place your orders. Above the window, a big white board listed their prices. You could buy oysters in the shell, shucked oysters in various sizes, and smoked oysters. A friendly man welcomed us, told us some history about oyster production in the Bay, and let us go in the back room where a line of workers were working at lightning speeds shucking oysters as they moved slowly toward them on a small conveyor belt. They packed a quart size container of shucked oysters out of the ocean that morning for us, put them on ice, and we were on our way. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend visiting the Ekone Oyster Company, or any other local oyster producer for that manner. It is a wonderful experience meeting the producer of the food you eat as well as eating shellfish fresh from the sea!

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