Lately I’ve been considering the oyster. We’re lucky in Washington: this is the only state between Mexico and Canada on the West Coast where you can harvest wild oysters on public land. Both Oregon and California are closed to oyster harvest, though I imagine you might be able to find u-pick shellfish farms in those states for a fee. With a shellfish license that costs a few bucks, a daily limit of 18 oysters in Washington starts to look pretty good when you consider market and raw bar prices.
Like M.F.K. Fisher, my favorite way to eat oysters is raw, which is to say alive, with a light mignonette dipping sauce. These are good times for those of us who indulge in such carnivorous habits, especially in the Northwest. Oyster farmers have developed a number of standout strains, from the deep-pocketed Kusshi to the marriage of East and West in the Totten Virginica. Here’s a good resource for North American oyster appellations, so you know what you’re ordering at the raw bar.
But mostly I like to pick among the wild oyster beds of Puget Sound, where the oysters are not nearly so civilized. Many of my beaches now carry notices warning harvesters that eating raw shellfish can be hazardous to your health—no doubt the usual CYA legalese that we’re so accustomed to in this litigious age.
Signage hasn’t stopped me yet, even though these are rough-and-tumble, barnacle-clad specimens, sometimes of monstrous proportions. You have to look carefully for the smaller ones—or you can go for quantity over quality and make stew.
1 cup celery, minced (about 3 ribs)
1 shallot, minced (3 tbsp)
1 large potato, chopped
4 tbsp butter
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 limit large oysters (or 2 12 oz jars)
salt and white pepper
fresh parsley, chopped for garnish
In a heavy pot saute shallot in butter over medium heat. Add potatoes and celery, season, and saute for 15 minutes. Add 3 cups milk and cook just below simmer until potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Use an immersion blender or food processor to blend milk and vegetables. Add heavy cream, then oysters and their liquor. (I chopped up my big oysters into bite-size pieces.) Oysters are done when edges curl. Serve immediately with hot sauce and cold beer.