They’re the succulent, slimy, sought-after bivalves that speckle Hood Canal’s shoreline, and chances are you either love them or hate them. Regardless, oysters are a staple of the seafood bounty that proliferates around the glacially-carved fjord we call home. Even better, they are one of the few farmed seafoods that are actually as good for the earth as they are for you. By the time one oyster is ready to go to market, it has filtered up to 120 gallons of water!
Literature idolizes them, connoisseurs obsess over them, and they fascinate us. Read on to get a crash course that only just scratches the surface of the cultural and culinary impact of this curious creature. If the subject piques your interest as much as it does ours, be sure to pay the experts at Hama Hama Oyster Company or Taylor Shellfish Farms a visit in Hood Canal.
Did you know?
There are only five species of oysters in the U.S.
Although there are seemingly endless varieties of oysters, there are a finite number of species, with the Pacific Oyster representing around 95% of the harvested oysters in the world. As is the case with wine, these few species vary greatly depending on the areas in which they're cultivated and the conditions in which they're raised.
The varieties you’ll find on the Hood Canal are the Pacific Oyster, known for its small and wavy casing on your plate (in the wild, they can grow up to 8"); the Kumamoto, with its small, pale, and round shell; and of course, the Olympia Oyster, with its small and notably iridescent shell.
Did you know?
The most prized oyster in the country grows one bay over
According to Rowan Jacobsen, one of the world’s most renowned oyster connoisseurs, the Totten Virginica is the number-one most prized oyster in the country. They grow in Totten Inlet, which happens to be a mere 20 minutes by car from Shelton, WA. Taylor Shellfish Farms cultivates these beauties, known for “the springy texture of an Eastern oyster with the rich flavor of the Puget Sound,” according to Jacobsen.
Because the Totten Virginica is so difficult to grow, and only takes to particular waters, many lament that they will soon be gone forever. Demand almost always outstrips supply for these rarities—so if you come upon them, you know what to do.
Did you know?
Oyster tasting has its own special vocabulary
A sophisticated (or even a mild) interest in oyster tasting necessitates a new vocabulary. For example, did you know that what some people mistake for an excess of sea water around an oyster on a half shell is actually “oyster liquor” and that it’s unacceptable to rinse or dump it out of the oyster before you consume it raw? That’s because it’s absolutely delicious.
Oh, and don’t say “salty,” say “briny.” The word “briny” achieves a better description of the distinct way in which the sea is salty. On that same note, sweet, melon, creamy, plump, and copper are also good taste descriptor words, and mirror tasting notes often found for oysters from the Pacific Northwest.
Did you know?
"The R Rule" has been debunked
Many people firmly maintain that "The R Rule"—claiming that it's only safe to eat oysters during months that end in the letter 'r'—is to be diligently upheld. Not so, says Hama Hama Oyster expert Brady Hall.
On our farm and many around the country, we grow both diploid (spawning) and triploid (non-spawning) oysters, generally mixed together. Spawning is triggered by water temperatures, so we switch to harvesting from cold-water areas rather than harvesting strictly oysters that are unable to spawn.
Both diploid and triploid oysters are identical save for minor genetic discrepancies.
Though the Hood Canal is one of the safest places for both farmers to cultivate oysters and amateur oyster-seekers to collect for themselves, there is a minor concern of vibrio parahaemolyticus. This pathogen is known to make people really sick for a few days, and consequently, the USDA and harvesting polices are becoming stricter. The easy way to stay safe? Closely monitor the emergency rules and updates before you head out to harvest.