Shellfish harvesting: Shucking oysters and steaming clams

Wiggle a shucking knife into the hinge of an oyster and turn to pop it open.

We had spent nearly two hours on the beach plucking oysters from their sandy clusters and filling our buckets with 40 clams each as part of a Bainbridge Island Metro Parks and Rec outdoors program on shellfish foraging.

As some of us were starting to show the first faint blushes of a sunburn, we gathered our gear and our buckets and slogged our way back up the tide flats. A few of us barely missed losing our boots to the sucking sand beneath.

Once back at Dosewallips State Park, we set out to replenish those calories spent digging and harvesting.

The shellfish we’d harvested were set aside as they filtered through fresh seawater and spit out their grit. (They ideally do this for about 24 hours before cooking).

John Adams, manager of Taylor’s Dosewallips property, brought along iced buckets of ready oysters and showed us how to shuck them. On a towel, he set an oyster cup-side down and wiggled the blade of an oyster knife into the hinge at the pointed end, turned it and popped the shell open. He then swiped the blade under the flat side of the shell to unstick the meat.

Here’s my bad cellphone video of the process:

Shucked oyster

Many of us practiced shucking then eating the oysters raw, dressed with either a squeeze of lime or a mignonette as described by Langdon Cook, author of Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager.

The mignonette consisted of diced shallots, pepper, lemon zest and champagne vinegar all shaken in a baby jar and spooned onto an awaiting oyster.

Meanwhile, Cook had set others to chopping onions, garlic and herbs to be used on two recipes for steamed clams. As onions softened in pools of hot oil in pan set over camp stoves, people commented on just how hungry they were.

The first batch of clams were cooked with the aforementioned onions, Italian sausage, tomatoes, wine and herbs. Cook has the recipe on his blog.

The second recipe, which also is on Cook’s blog started with butter, onions, garlic, thin-sliced fen, wine, herbs and cream.

We filled our bowls and dunked slices of baguettes in to soak up the juices. But even as our bellies filled with the bounty, Adams had yet another addition to the meal. He had set several dozen oysters onto a charcoal-heated barbecue and covered them with foil.

As we finished the clams, these roasted oysters were just finishing. He popped the mollusks open, then squeezed over them the juice of key limes.

At the end of the day, with sun shining and images of eagles and elks in my mind, it seemed almost an embarrassment of riches to be had along the shores of Hood Canal. But that didn’t stop me from dreaming of how I was going to cook that remaining bucket of shellfish in my backseat.

Coming Next Week

How I cooked up the oysters at home (and a couple things in-between so you don’t get too shellfish-ed out).