Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

Little Taste of the Dahlia with Oyster Bill from Taylor Shellfish Farms

Posted on: Thursday 22 September 2011

I have an aversion to raw food. I dislike crunchy salads and have been eating sashimi for just over a year. I’m suspicious that the glistening flesh will be slimy and fishy. I now love salmon and tuna sashimi, and progressing with oysters.

I attended the Little Taste of the Dahlia with Oyster Bill from Taylor Shellfish Farms earlier this week. Keen to learn about shellfish, I was delighted that Bill Whitbeck, or Oyster Bill, was the guest for the return of the series.

Held in the private dining room of the Dahlia Lounge, it was an intimate space with cosy round tables brightened with posies of sunflowers.

I found good seats with Darryl and we perused the menu as attendees trickled in. There were four bites from Chef Brock Johnson paired with Muscadet and a special beer by Elysian Brewery.

Tom Douglas was resplendent in his oyster shucking sunglasses. He demonstrated the calmness required which bemused Oyster Bill.

Geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck) is a very ugly species of clam. The room descended into naughty giggles as the phallic shellfish was passed around.

Virginica oysters and Mediterranean mussels were displayed on ice. Tom Douglas welcomed the group and explained the purpose of the Little Tastes of Dahlia series is to connect with and learn from suppliers. He introduced Oyster Bill from Taylor Shellfish Farms. They recently opened a store in Melrose Market on Capitol Hill.

Tom mentioned that he’ll eat oysters smoked, poached and broiled but not raw. Tom and Bill demonstrated their shucking techniques, twist not pry! Tom’s first job in the restaurant industry was shucking oysters for a buffet.

The first course was a Virginica oyster with heirloom melon, cucumber, lemon and mint. I don’t know how to eat an oyster gracefully so I pick up the half shell and slid its contents into my mouth. And I didn’t slurp! Shimmering and briny, the Virginica oyster had a delicate flavour that was enhanced by the diced accompaniments.

Farmed in Totten Inlet in south Puget Sound, the Virginica oysters grow in mineral rich waters. They’re the same species as the Atlantic oysters but have a different flavour profile. Ocean acidification has affected supply and Bill commented that it is a global warming issue.

Land is leased from private owners for farming. Specific conditions including fresh water and salinity level are needed as the oysters are not fed once released from the hatchery. The oysters eat algae and are all natural.

Chef Brock Johnson detailed the ingredients of each dish. The seared Qualicum Beach scallop was paired with batons of Ruby Jon apples and seaweed, and served with cracked pepper and drizzled with olive oil. Plump and tender, the simple dressing highlighted the freshness of the scallop.

Geoducks are unique to the Pacific Northwest. They can live to more than a hundred years old. The older geoducks have darker meat, and can be tough and chewy. If caught in the wild, you cannot return them. Taylor Shellfish farms geoducks and they are harvested at about eight years old.

Like trees, geoducks and oysters have ridges on their shells to indicate age. Geoducks burrow in sand and live below the surface. Only an inch or two of the snout is visible. Considered a delicacy in Asia, the largest export market is China. Tom shared an anecdote that a geoduck chow mein was on the opening menu of Dahlia Lounge more than twenty years ago!

To prepare the geoduck, blanch it in boiling water until the skin blisters. Remove the sausage casing like skin, glide knife along the shells to detach the muscles and the geoduck is ready for consumption. The belly is best for sautéing or in a stir fry and the siphon can be sliced for sashimi or ceviche.

A deconstructed chowder, the geoduck essence was steeped into mashed satina potatoes. Geoduck sashimi and bacon salt perched on a dollop of infused mashed potatoes, a tiny portion and yet so scrumptious. The geoduck was succulent and toothsome, close your eyes and you can feel the sand between your toes, hear the waves lapping and smell the salty air.

The final course was Mediterranean mussel with linguiça and pickled peppers in a tomato saffron broth. Brock noted that Mediterranean mussels spawn in winter and peak in summer which coincides perfectly with tomato season. You generally cannot overcook Mediterranean mussels, they tend to retain suppleness.

The heady combination would make a delicious moules frites, the mussel absorbed the intense aromatic broth and the spices in the salty Portuguese cured pork sausage.

Beer is a classic match with mussels and we were lucky to sample a glass of Elysian Brewery Saison of the Witch. A collaborative effort, the beer is brewed by Elysian Brewery and Brave Horse Tavern with Prosser Farm pumpkins and wild fennel. The Halloween themed, Belgian farmhouse beer was pleasant to drink and I think it’s a festive season beer!

We were also poured a glass of Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet and toasted wine importer Joe Dressner.

Little Taste of the Dahlia with Oyster Bill was another quality Tom Douglas event and I look forward to the next in the series!

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3 Responses to "Little Taste of the Dahlia with Oyster Bill from Taylor Shellfish Farms"

What a fantastic event. I’m a bit crazy for raw oysters. Living in the NW I bet they grow on you.

They are! I love living in coastal cities and there’s an abundance of fresh quality seafood in the Pacific Northwest.

[…] was thrilled that the first Little Taste of the Dahlia this year was duck. I’ve never cooked duck at home and was keen to learn the basic skills of […]

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