Monday, July 07, 2008

OK, enough of that.: UPDATED

Instead, here is a brief treatise on the fried oyster.

I am fortunate enough to live nearby the source of the most prized oysters in the world. I happen to like oysters anyway, but I can tell you that I had no idea what an oyster could be until I first ate one of these little miracles .

Raw, they are otherworldly. Unbelievable. Sweet, clean, meaty, light; a hundred shifting, changing flavors move across your tongue. If you've ever had a really good wine you know the kind of flavor experience I mean; it turns and flashes like a coin dropped in a pool of water. It leaves a faint memory of itself behind that begs for yet another taste. Yes, they really are that good. I have eaten 30 0f them at a sitting. They are so amazing and delicious that they leave me close to tears. Seriously. Tears.

The Chuckanut Bay (Rock Creek to you gourmets) oyster lives in the shallow, rich, muddy margin where fresh and salt water meet, at the base of Chuckanut Mountain on Puget Sound. The area is one of the most clean, beautiful, otherworldly environments you can imagine; pristine, temperate, green.

The oyster is not outwardly beautiful, of course, in its rugged shell, nor is it easily had once raked from its bed of clay and stones. It runs small. It hardly seems worth the effort, in fact. But once the creature is removed from its shell it is as tender and mild as a foggy day, grey and moist and pearly.

It is the lamb of the oyster nation. Where other oysters reek of conjugal excess or tidal wrack, the Chuckanut Bay oyster only hints at love, salt and sea. You taste fresh water, sashimi-sweet fish, warm milk, Douglas fir, salt, granite, grass dried in the sun.

The flesh is like soft bread in the mouth.

Of course, all this is simply a matter of selecting a good oyster and making sure that the shortest possible time elapses between ocean and plate. Cooked, the oyster is another matter entirely.

It takes a lot of restraint and discipline to cook an oyster correctly. Unfortunately, far too many cooks treat it like just another protein, and that is the reason that people who do not like oysters don't like them. Too much heat destroys an oyster. It becomes a rank, rubbery, wretched mess. The stomach swells and the contents become bitter and musky and taint the entire creature. The muscle parts weep and turn into strips of rubber. All this happens in an instant.

A properly cooked oyster is not dark. It should not be swollen fat and round in the middle. It should not be smoking hot. It should not be buried under a hard brown shell of fried starch, nor should it be lost in a gummy mass of greasy batter.

A properly cooked oyster should just be....set. The flesh should merely be somewhat firmer than when it was raw, and of a uniformly lighter color throughout. It should be oval and flattish. All it wants is a light breading; and by this I mean a fast toss through some plain white bread crumbs mixed with a little cornstarch-no water, no batter, no egg. Then onto a lightly oiled surface that is not smoking hot, but one which has just passed being too hot to lay ones' hand on. It should spend mere seconds to a side; front, back and then front again, and then onto the plate where the heat of the cooking will continue to set the flesh.

Thats it. It takes just about as long to read about as it does to cook.

A run of the mill oyster benefits from proper treatment, of course, but a Rock Creek oyster becomes something completely new. It still greets you with a multitude of changing flavors but they have all blended more closely, become something milder and deeper. This is an oyster that you can eat with enthusiasm without worrying that you'll be moved to tears (at least if you're a big dork like I am.)

I had a couple of these this afternoon for lunch, in a nice, light foccacia sandwich. Some aioli and some mixed greens accompanied them, and that was all that they needed. It was like biting into a delicious cloud.

Every now and then you eat something that is perfect. Today I did. I came into that place with a bad attitude. What I received was a blessing.

It made my life better.
This is the place we went to for the wonderful sandwich:

Mambo Italiano in Old Fairhaven.

The website needs to be updated; the place has been redesigned and the ambience is a lot more sophisticated.
The food is excellent without being overdone. The service is very professional, without being fawning or condescending. Far from being chi-chi or annoying or trendy (like many places in Fairhaven), it is simply a pleasant, adult place to have a grown-up meal of excellently prepared food.


  1. Big Daddy D (my version of your yummy biker) will have to try this! Because I don't cook and I don't plan on starting.

  2. Can you make an oyster burrito?

  3. Oysters rock.

    As do scallops.

  4. I ordered oysters once in a restaurant. What I arrived on my plate I was unable to bring myself to eat, and I'm an adventurous eater. I'll try just about anything.

    Just about.

    These were huge, as big around as the top of a tea cup, and that was the flesh, not the shell.

    They were served raw on the half shell, which i was not expecting. And they were covered in something called "ham dust and strawberry foam," which consisted of a pink, grainy substance that tasted of nothing but salt and a tranclucent pink, frothy substance that looked like it was wiped from around the mouth of a rabid child that had just eaten a red popsicle.

    It was the first time I've ever sat in a restaurant and not eaten the thing I ordered. Pirate at them instead. I cried salt, which seemed plausible, because he knows I can't stand anything too salty. In truth I was just grossed out.

    I like sound of your oysters, though. They are small. That can only be a good thing.

    I would like to try the cooked ones before I take another crack at the raw ones.

    Are they really an afrodesiac? Did you come away horny?

  5. FN...making life better is all that counts...most days...i have never been a fan of oysters however i do remember getting my ass beat when we lived in florida and my mom's bf went diving and brought back children, my sisters and i didn't see the value in them, outside of the shells and we gutted them and fed them to the birds to make them shit on the people laying on the beach...perhaps it is why i don't give them the chance to be liked?

  6. joy: best left to the experts. i won't even cook an oyster. they're tricky little devils!

    mj: i have actually seen such a thing for sale. would i eat it? um...

    garfy: hell yes!

    cb: that sounds so NASTY!! you did right. why on earth would anyone top a raw oyster to begin with, much less serve one that big and rank? because the bigger they are the muskier they taste. / do they make you horny? nah. but they do smell oceany, and that can tend to remind you of sex. in the presence of the right partner i guess it could be inspiring. its kind of overkill when seated across from the Biker, though, if you get my drift *snork*

    daisy: that would do it! you were a very creative child, weren't you?

  7. Hmm...the few times I've had oysters they've been rubbery and really REALLY awful. Sure I live in the middle of the prairies, but I figured an upscale place here should know how to make them. From what you've said...not at all.
    Next time I'm given the chance, perhaps I'll try them again.

    It's the little things that make you smile isn't it? :)

  8. Arabella3:55 PM

    I get this way over French boudin. In fact I'm a boudin fool.
    Got such a kick reading about you enjoying that lunch.

  9. FN...entertainment was the name of the game back then...still is...however i no longer live near a beach...but these farm boys can be entertaining at

  10. The best oysters I've had were in Cafe Rogano in Glasgow. Afterwards I went for a walk with my ladyfriend of the moment and we realised we were being followed by a man who stopped every few minutes to pleasure himself.

    It's the only case I've known of a vicarious aphrodisiac.

  11. Anonymous6:16 PM

    All shellfish should be on the small side, taken fresh from their NATURAL habitat (which should be clean!)and consumed on the spot. If in a restaurant, then said restaurant must be built right there!
    If you ever are unlucky enough to get a "bad" shellfish it can cause a reaction in your system which will stay with you for life, thus making you unable to eat the delicious things ever again. Ever.
    I am now living on memories...

    (And I'm glad the oysters cheered you up.)

  12. Norwexile8:00 AM

    Him: "You look kind of down."
    Me: "Homesick."
    Him: "Do I need to take the internet away from you? What is it this time?"
    Me: "Oysters."
    Him: "... you are so strange ..."

    Honestly, that section of Chuckanut is the loveliest place, it just makes sense that the oysters from there are some of the best as well. I wandered away from reading your blog for a while, but after this I'll be back to lurking with a vengeance ... thanks, First Nations!

  13. MAN! You forgot to give the restaurant a shout-out! We've never had a bad meal there, no? And their sammidges are to diiiiieeee for...or at least lust after and drool upon a wee bit.
    Viva Mambo Italiano! The shining jewel of Fairhaven dining!

  14. Geo: oysters must, MUST be absolutely fresh out of the water. Even if they're held in saltwater tanks up to the time of serving, they have to be completely fresh. I've had that oyster you describe. its a crying damn shame./the little things are the best things, arent they!

    ara: man, we get boudin from a place down near Baton Rouge that kicks ass and takes names. if I had your e-mail HINT HINT i could give you the name of the source HINT HINT.

    daisy: you feed them oysters and get them to crap on tourists? I see what ive been missing by living on the West Coast now. DAMN girl.

    footman: are you certain it wasn't your Guatamalan-ness? :D

    MoreIdle: is that your new place? I love it!!!!!//i didn't know that about the 'bad' shellfish. great. one more thing to be paranoid about!

    cb: is hees nachurul GHEAT.

    norwex: hey you! they just recently remodelled the Inn At Rock Creek and I am DYING to go back and eat another 30 oysters on the half shell as soon as i can. Isn't that the most beautiful coastline you have ever, ever seen? hell, I'm homesick too and I live 45 minutes away from the place.

    SSA: right, right, right, right. yor're RIGHT. I have to update. Dammit, i totally blew that. great service too. X!