New cookbook may stir up raw passions

"Oysters are the most fantastic food in the world. Such is the opinion of Half Shell Lori McKean, a North Whidbey chef and food writer who carries an oyster knife and a bottle of hot sauce wherever she goes. McKean's latest book The Joy of Oysters, written in partnership with Oyster Bill Whitbeck of Seattle, was published Feb. 20. A compendium of recipes, history, oyster lore and how tos, the book is subtitled, A cookbook and guidebook for shucking, slurping and savoring nature's most perfect food.McKean started as a chef and worked for many years in the restaurant industry. But she soon found that the pen was another tool she enjoyed wielding and began a second career in food writing. She has written or edited for many food magazines including Northwest Palate, Bon Appetit, Better Homes and Gardens and The Wine Enthusiast. McKean has also written for a number of regional and national newspapers and is currently food and wine columnist for the News-Times.The Joy of Oysters is McKean's fourth book. Previous books are The Northwest Best Places Cookbook, Pacific Northwest Flavors and John Sarich at Chateau St. Michelle. McKean says the oyster book got its start two years ago when she met Oyster Bill Whitbeck at the Oyster Olympics. Publisher Chuck Hill had asked Oyster Bill to write a book called The Joy of Oysters. A photographer and musician with a family history in the oyster business, Bill didn't have cookbook writing expertise and called McKean for advice knowing she'd written several cookbooks. As it happened, McKean had just finished writing a proposal for a book called The Art of Oysters. The two decided to combine their efforts and write the best oyster book in the world. The premise was to share our passion and joy for oysters. A lot of people are squeamish and don't really know about them, McKean said. To educate their audience the duo decided to tell the story of oysters on both the west and east coasts. Consequently the book covers this slice of maritime history from colonial days up to the Oyster Renaissance, in layman's terms, the present day. Renaissance is McKean's term for the current oyster craze. Seafood markets can hardly keep them in stock, she says. Perhaps the popularity of the shellfish is due in part to its reputation as an aphrodisiac, a topic she and Whitbeck discuss in a section called Love on the Half Shell, Eat Oysters Love Longer. Oysters are nature's Viagra, she says, People who are passionate about oysters can't get enough. For Whidbey oyster lovers, and those who want to love longer, McKean insists that only the freshest will do, but notes that it's hard to find fresh oysters on the island. She suggests Tortuga, the new restaurant and market in Coupeville which carries Penn Cove Selects, Knutzens' Seafood Market in Anacortes and Thibert's near Anacortes, which carries Blaus from Sammish Island. Ennen's sometimes has good ones but it's usually better to get them from a market, she says.Some of McKean's favorite oyster recipes include Oyster Creek Inn's Oyster Stew which she describes as really different, subtle and wonderful. There's also Oyster Bill's Oyster Rolls, an east coast specialty featuring the very best grilled oysters served on grilled buns. Of course no oyster fancier would pass up the chance to advocate the oyster shooter and Mckean is no different. Her favorite sauce for raw oysters is called Kiss Your Ass Goodbye. McKean also suggests her own invention, tart Long Beach Cranberry Mignonette to accompany oysters on the half shell. For something really different she suggests readers try the Singapore Slurp invented by Michael Foley, chef of the Printer's Row restaurant in Chicago which consists of a raw oyster in a shot glass topped with soy sauce, sesame habanera oil, a slice of jalapeno and a raw quail egg. When I first read the recipe I thought 'that's weird,' but it's so good! McKean notes that quail eggs are hard to come by and substitutes one half teaspoon beaten egg. The Joy of Oysters features hundreds more recipes for amazing things you can do with oysters as well as oyster stories, oyster poetry, oyster jokes, calendars of events and The Oyster Sensory Appreciation Wheel.Grab a copy and join the fellowship of elbow benders, says Half Shell Lori McKean. "

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