Island Flavor

"It's oyster season again, now that our local waters have turned colder, and they are tasting spectacular. I'm just putting the finishing touches on a cookbook called The Joy of Oysters, and have been sampling lots of delicious oyster recipes. I wanted to share a few of my favorites.We solicited recipes from top restaurants across the country and I added some of my own - final count was more than 200 recipes. But first, I'd like to share a few tips I learned about oysters while researching this book.Buying oystersNothing beats buying oysters at the source. Taste is a very complex sensation that involves emotion, knowledge, memory, smell, sound, sight and much more. The more we know about how a food is grown and harvested, the better it tastes. When we fully experience the essence of place or spirit of a food or wine, it becomes a part of us, greatly enhancing our enjoyment.When you buy oysters at the source, you inhale the briny kelp and brisk foggy air off the bay. You hear the lonely cry of the gulls and the chalky clink of oyster shells as they are pulled from the sea. You feel the silty mud of the estuary oozing between your fingers, and breath the rich nutrients and minerals from the sea that give an oyster its trademark taste. You hold the oysters, heavy and compact in your hand, and feel the ruggedness of their beautiful fluted shells. Eat one of these freshly shucked oysters, and all your senses come alive again. Each half shell holds much more than flavor. If you don't have an opportunity to purchase oysters directly from a grower, there are plenty of other options. Check with your local seafood merchant or grocer to find out what they offer. Often they can special order oysters, so you're assured of freshness. Some oyster companies even ship fresh oysters overnight, via UPS or FedEX. Dos and don'tsWhenever you buy live oysters, inspect the oysters to make sure they are alive and their shells are intact. Shells should be tightly closed, or should close readily when tapped. Oysters should feel heavy and full in your hand. Since an oyster loses moisture once it is removed from the sea, this suggests they are freshly harvested. Oyster meats should be tan to cream-colored, heavy and plump. They should smell sweet and briny like the sea. Discard any oysters that do not close, or that emit a bad odor.Fact or fiction? the R monthsThere is an old saying that you should never eat oysters during months without an R in them. This was true in the days before refrigeration, when oysters shipped during the heat of summer spoiled quickly, but there is really no basis for this now. Yet some people still prefer not to eat oysters during the warmer months. The reason is that in the summer oysters are leaner and milder tasting. During the spawning season, which is triggered by summer heat, oysters consume their own sweet stores of glycogen, a starch that gives them energy to reproduce. The by-product of this glycogen consumption is lactic acid, the same acid found in milk. This gives oysters a milky appearance and less assertive flavor. Its not bad; just different.I recommend serving oysters on the half shell during the cooler months, when oysters are at their peak in flavor and texture. During the warmer months oysters are great for grilling and cooking.Storing oysters Store live oysters in the refrigerator between 34 and 40-degrees F. Place them deep side down (to retain their juices) in an open container. Cover the oysters with a damp towel or layers of damp newspaper. Remember, oysters are alive and need to breathe, so never seal them tightly in a plastic bag. Fresh oysters stored this way will keep up to seven days. Never immerse live oysters in fresh water or melted ice; it will kill them.Freshly shucked oyster meats in jars or plastic tubs should be packed in their own liquor, which should be clear. Stored at 34 - 40 degrees F., these will keep up to two weeks (look for an expiration date stamped on the container). Oysters On The Half Shell with Citrus-Coriander SauceCanlis Restaurant, Seattle. Chef Greg Atkinson delighted former oyster grower Doe Webb, of Westcott Bay Sea Farms in Friday Harbor, with this bright citrus sauce laced with garlic and ground coriander seed. Doe used to tell Greg that she loved it because it didn't mask the flavor of the oysters. When Greg lived and worked in Friday Harbor, near Westcott Bay, he served this sauce with Westcott Bay's appetizer oysters which, as the name implies, are quite small, about 2-inches in length. Serves 61 lemon1 lime1 orange1 teaspoon minced garlic1/2 teaspoon sugar1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed1/4 teaspoon each, salt and white pepper36 small oysters, freshly shuckedWith a citrus zester (available at kitchen shops) or grater, carefully remove the colorful outer rind from each citrus fruit. Place the zest in a small, non-reactive bowl and set aside. Slice each fruit in half, horizontally, and, using a juicer, squeeze the juice from the fruit. Add the citrus juice to the zest. Stir in the garlic, sugar, coriander, salt and white pepper. Chill and serve with freshly shucked oysters arranged on a bed of crushed ice. Grand Central Oyster Pan RoastGrand Central Oyster Bar, New York, NYNext to oyster stew, this is the Grand Central Oyster Bar's most celebrated dish, which patrons have been clamoring for since the restaurant first opened in 1913. If you've been lucky enough to sit counterside at the Oyster Bar, you've watched the chefs prepare this creamy concoction in the restaurant's steam-jacketed bowls. At home, a double boiler works great.Ingredients per serving:8 medium oysters, scrubbed and shucked, reserving liquor2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter1 tablespoon chili sauce1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce1 teaspoon celery salt1/2 cup cream1 slice dry sourdough or pumpernickel toast1/2 teaspoon paprikaPlace the oysters and their liquor, 1 tablespoon butter, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce and celery salt in the top of a double boiler over boiling water. Don't let the top of the boiler touch the water below. Whisk mixture briskly and constantly for about 1 1/2 minutes, until the edges of the oysters begin to curl. Add the cream and continue stirring briskly until mixture is hot and small bubbles form along the rim of the pan. Do not boil. Place the toast in a soup plate and pour the hot oyster and cream mixture over the toast. Top with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and sprinkle with paprika. Recommended beverages: Champagne or sparkling wine, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc, Viognier, dry rieslingThese local oyster growers offer oysters by mail, or you can visit their retail outlets:Westcott Bay Sea Farms4071 Westcott Dr.Friday Harbor.Phone: (360) 378-2489Fax: (360) 378-6388Oysters are shipped Mondays and Thursdays, with one week advance notice.Product includes: Westcott Bay Flats and Westcott Bay Petite (a unique cross between the Japanese Miyagi oyster and the tiny Kumomoto oyster).Also available at Knudson Crab Market, Anacortes. (360) 293-3696Blau Oyster Company11321 Blue Heron RoadBowPhone: (360) 766-6171Fax: (360) 766-6115Oysters are shipped daily, with two days notice.Products include Pacific oysters in shell and hand-shucked Pacific oysters.Also available at Thibert's Crab Market, Anacortes. (360) 293-2525Taylor United 2182 Chuckanut DriveBowPhone: (360) 766-6002Fax: (360) 766-6812Oysters are shipped daily (overnight delivery). Products include Olympia, Kumamoto, Pacific and Belon or European Flat oysters in shell and hand-shucked Olympia or Pacific oysters.------------------Lori McKean-Casad is a Northwest chef with 15 years of hands-on experience and a particular love for Northwest foods. She is the author or co-author of three cookbooks, Pacific Northwest Flavors, The Northwest Best Places Cookbook, and John Sarich at Chateau Ste. Michelle. She lives in Cornet Bay on Whidbey Island. If you have questions, comments, or favorite recipes to share, contact her at the Whidbey News Times, 675-6611; fax 675-2732; or e-mail "

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