Dietary Diaries

The food inspired musings of a culinarily inclined nerd.

Location: Berkeley, California Bay Area, United States

Berkana signifies rebirth and new beginnings; I have found these in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Hog Island Oyster Farm

I had the priveledge of taking a culinary research trip with Peter to Hog Island Oyster farm this past Sunday. Since he started his culinary training on Monday, we decided to go all out and make a day trip of this. We drove for over over 60 miles to a remote, secluded spot on the western shore of the north peninsula of the bay, where Hog Island Oysters is based. There was no parking due to all the people and picnics going on there. Since we had no idea what to expect, we were underdressed for the cold windy weather. The stiff sea breeze was significantly colder than we had expected. On top of that, we were totally unprepared; the picnic grounds required reservations. Unless all you want to do is eat is raw oysters, you had to bring your own food and drinks and coals to grill them, if not an ice chest to take some home. . .

. . . and since we got there late, they were all out of everything but their small and extra small sweetwater oysters (featured in the picture above). Typically, they have Atlantic, Effingham, and Kumamoto oysters as well. James jokingly remarked at the oyster bar that the Effingham oysters were "effing good". But even the "small" oysters seemed pretty darn large.

When you buy oysters fresh, at the farm, they're half the price of oysters served at the oyster bar in the Ferry Building Market in SF. The drawback is that you have to shuck them yourself. This is no small task! 'Tis a mystery to me why clams are all nice and symentrical, while oysters look like gnarled rocks, or worse. No two of them look alike. Shucking oysters is like shucking rocks. They're sharp, and if you're not good, you can end up impaling your own hand with the oyster shucking knife, or with a nasty shard of shell. If you suceed, you stand a good chance at chipping the delicate shell around the lip of the oyster, leaving nasty shards in the meat for you to find the hard way. They hand you a tray with a shucking knife attached by a cable, and a thick, neoprene glove to protect the hand you hold the oyster with. We found the trick is to jab the shucker into the joint of the shell, and to cut the adductor muscle ASAP after that. Then, cut the aductor from the other shell, and the oyster's ready.

Raw oysters are an acquired taste; the friend who eagerly came along with us found out the hard way. Upon actually seeing a live oyster, he was so grossed out by the little molusk that he couldn't get himself to take one in. Instead, he ended up spitting it out with a disgusted look on his face. He then ceded his oysters to me and Pete. True, they do seem slimy and alien to the uninitiated. And when taken alone, they are rather bland. (Kick them up with sea salt, lemon, and some worchestershire sauce.) Luckily for us, we got over our squeamishness at eating them live. (Leaves you wondering, who came up with this idea in the first place. . .) Honestly, you can't even tell that they're live, just that they're super fresh. It's not like they're wrigling and squirming or anything. They just sit there. In the old days, there was a serious threat of getting vibrio from wild oysters, but with oysters raised and cared for in very clean waters, this isn't a problem any more.

After turning a storage bin into a make-shift ice chest, we hauled the rest of the oysters home, and reverse engineered the "Oysters casino" dish that we tasted at the oyster bar in the Ferry Building. This one wasn't too hard; shuck the oysters, top with paprika, chopped cooked bacon, and a little bit of butter, and broil them for about 3-5 minutes. Hehe. yummy. One successfully reverse-engineered recipe down. Pete also made an alfredo sauce from the manila clams we bought at the oyster farm. By the time all this was done, he was rather competent at oyster shucking. Not bad for a person who only tasted them for the first time last week. Our friend who had so much trouble even trying to eat an oyster raw off the half shell still couldn't get over it when trying to eat one that was broiled. Too bad.

Who could have imagined such an ugly lookin' rock-like thing would have this edible little critter inside. And what kind of deranged mind thought to eat the darn critter raw? At least in sushi, the raw fish is dead. But weirder things have been eaten.

Check list for our next Hog Island picnic. . .

(if we ever get around to having another one)

  1. ice chest
  2. coals
  3. coal starter
  4. tongs
  5. condiments: cocktail sauce, worchestershire sauce, hot sauce, sea salt, lemon wedges, etc.
  6. chilled beer, or wine, and glasses to serve them in.
  7. sausages, shrimp, fish, or other grillable food to go with your oysters
  8. jackets and warm clothes
  9. plates and utensiles, and a bag to put the dirty ones in (disposable ones will be blown away by the stiff breeze)
  10. lots of friends who aren't afraid or alergic to seafood and an appetite.

(the picnic grounds were not actually on Hog Island. As far as I can tell, "Hog Island" is an uninhabitable rock just off shore.)


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