If I ask you to join me on a two-hour bus trip from Seattle to Shelton, WA on the South Puget Sound to go on an night time walk on the beach in late December, I suspect you will come up with a polite excuse for having to wash your hair that night or needing to tend to your sick houseplants.
Two nights ago, seven of my most adventurous friends and I boarded a high class motor coach with 50 fellow oysters lovers clad in long johns, woolly hoodies, puffy coats, rain boots, mittens and head lamps. Our destination: A section of oysters beds sectioned off for us to shuck, eat, drink, and muck around like kids on the beach for about 2.5 hours.
Thinking we have our solstices confused by going during the winter instead of the milder summer rendition? Na, we Seattleites find it gratifying toughing it out in the dark winter months. Plus, oysters are at their tastiest in winter months and are chilled to the perfect temperature at night.
Once we get to our oyster bed destination and disembark the bus, the crisp calm night air paired with giddy excitement make me feel like I am at an exclusive night market in the remote wilderness.
The veteran Taylor clan, who has been offering these night time picnics for the past 5 years, welcomes us with a few stations of already shucked oysters, in addition to two stations filled with Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios and other award-winning wines from the 2011 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition. Some people start going to town on finding and shucking their own oysters, while others are laser focused on devouring as many shucked oysters as they can (me). I also observe some of my bus mates making a deliberate b-line to the wine stations.
I hear lots of ooh’ing and ah’ing about the tiny Olympias which are uniquely native to Washington state. These li’l guys are the size of a quarter and near impossible to find at restaurants. Apparently, it takes 250 shucked oysters to fill a pint. James Beard award-winning author Rowan Jacobsen describes Olys as sweet, metallic with a celery-salt flavor and asserts they pack more flavor and interest than a full-sized Pacific or Eastern oyster.
Tom Stocks, one of the many congenial Taylor Shellfish staff members at the event, draws attention as he asserts the Olympias taste like a roasted chicken with morels. In seeing my puzzled look, he immediately locates and shucks one for me and gives me explicit instructions on how to extrapolate all of the diverse flavors from the oyster: Place the miniature shellfish in the front of my mouth and let it sit for a few seconds, then move it to the central part of my tongue and begin chewing.
My buddy says Stocks’ advice has his palate tasting hints of chicken and morels. I, on the other hand, definitely taste more of the complex flavors in following this approach, but overall, it makes me crave one of those rotisserie chickens you get at one of the Paris outdoor food markets served with potatoes drizzled with fat from the chicken.
Throughout the night, we also go to town on four other oyster varieties: Shigokus, Pacifics, Virginicas and Kumamotos.
Towards the end of the night, I see more and more people gravitating towards the fire and grilling monstrous-sized oysters.
I determine I have likely consumed a total of 29 oysters.
The coach rolls back to Seattle at 12:30am which makes me feel like a champ for staying up so late on a “school” night. With a belly full of oysters, stew and wine, I wake up to strangely find I am still craving oysters.
I hear the remaining events in early 2012 are sold out, but I think it is worth contacting Jon Rowley or Taylor Shellfish to see if you can get on the wait-list.