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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

July 31, 2013 at 10:38 AM

Chef Tom Douglas shucks up advice on best ways to serve oysters

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(Photo by Greg Gilbert, Seattle Times staff photographer)

The summer shellfish seasons are in full swing throughout the Pacific Northwest, and that means many will be bringing home a batch of oysters to prepare for a tasty meal or simply eating them on the beach.

Seattle chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas will contribute some of his tasty cooking advice and recipes for the Reel Time Fishing NW blog in our Catch of the Week each Wednesday through October. Catch of the Day will also include recipes from other local chefs, tackle shop owners and fish-market owners.

Douglas is owner of Lola, Palace Kitchen, Dahlia Lounge, Dahlia Bakery, Etta’s, Serious Pie Downtown, Seatown, Brave Horse Tavern, Cuoco, Serious Biscuit and Serious Pie Westlake. Another new Douglas restaurant that just opened is Tanaka San at the Via6 Apartment Complex in downtown Seattle.

Here are some suggestions by Chef Tom Douglas on how to “wow” your friends and family at the dining table:

Thanks to the abundance of shellfish in Puget Sound, Washington State is the largest oyster producer in the country.  Oysters, such as Dabobs, Quilcenes, Westcotts, and Willapas to name just a few, are often named after the place they are harvested.  The tiny Olympia oyster, steely tasting and sweet, is a Northwest native.

Kumamotos, which sit plump and lush in their deeply scooped shells, are farmed from Japanese seed.  To best enjoy the briny, sweet, and mineral flavors of these oysters, shuck and serve them raw on the half shell, nestled into a bed of crushed ice.

Pacific oysters, which originated in Japan but were brought to Puget Sound in the 1920’s, are big meaty oysters that are delicious raw but are also delightful broiled over a campfire until the shells pop open -at which time you can slip in a pat of herb butter, or fried in seasoned flour and stuffed into a split baguette smeared with pickle-y tartar sauce.

To shuck oysters, you’ll need an oyster knife, a handy tool with a sturdy handle and a short rigid blade which you can pick up for about ten bucks in a kitchenware shop or fish market.   A quick trip online will yield any number of videos and slide shows with step-by-step instructions on how to shuck an oyster.   The important thing is to take your time.  Don’t try to rush or you may cut into the oyster or, dare I say, your hand.

When training a young cook on how to shuck, I like to say, “Don’t wake them up! They should still be sleeping.”  Also watch for bits of shell or debris.  It’s important that your shucked oyster is clean and pristine.

My favorite mignonette sauce for raw oysters is the one I came up with for my seafood joint, Etta’s–  rice wine vinegar, minced shallots, freshly ground black pepper, a dash of fish sauce, and a dash of zippy Tabasco sauce.

When frying oysters, I like to dredge them in seasoned flour first.  Coating oysters in a mixture of cornmeal and all-purpose flour spiced up with cayenne, paprika, ancho chile powder, salt, pepper and celery seeds then sautéing them in whole butter is one of my favorite ways to go.

Another idea is to grind your own five spice mix of equal parts of fennel seed, cinnamon, and Szechuan peppercorns plus a smaller quantity of cloves and star anise. Use this spice mix generously, adding some kosher or sea salt, to season your flour.

Dredge the oysters in the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess, then fry in a hot pan with a thin layer of peanut oil until the oysters have firmed up and are golden brown on both sides.

Drain the oysters on paper towels and serve immediately with a lime wedge and Chinese chili paste.

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