We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Visiting Tomales Bay, Hog Island Oyster Farm, Shucking Oysters and Mark's Mignonette for Oysters on the Half Shell

My Traveling Tales by Linda

"As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans." 
                                                                         ~ Ernest Hemingway, from a Moveable Feast

My son Jordan + fresh oysters from Hog Island Oyster Farm = ♥ 
   The summer before last, I moved an hour south from my home of Guerneville, California, to the city of Petaluma. As much as I loved the beautiful environs that frame the funky town of Guerneville, with the move to Petaluma I left the isolation and damp of the river town for the many amenities that one can find living in a small city. One such benefit, is being able to be at the Hog Island Oyster Farm in Marshall, by way of a short and scenic thirty minute drive. If you are planning a visit to California's famous Bay Area, Tomales Bay is well worth making the effort to visit.

Tomales Bay, California in Winter. .. stunningly beautiful and pristine.
   This past year, my son Jordan and I took a trip out to Marshall on the day after Christmas. Off we went on a dazzlingly bright winter's day in his very tall truck (yes... the one that I have such a difficult time climbing into) in search of oysters. Jordan was raised in close proximity to the ocean, and now that he lives in a mountain town far from the water, he was looking forward to spending some time on the coast.

  Oyster farming is the main industry on the bay (although the Giacomini family makes amazing cheese just up the road at the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company), and the oysters that grow here have the benefit of maturing to harvesting size in the clear, clean and cold waters of Northern California. Hog Island's Farm has a seating area with a view of the bay, and with the purchase of oysters, they will provide you with a shucking knife and the other accoutrements that you will need to have for the perfect seaside feast. Reservations are required.

The picnic area at Hog Island Oyster Farm in Marshall, California.

The oyster bar known as The Boat on Hog Island Oyster Farm.

   In recent years Hog Island has built an oyster shack which they call The Boat, where one can purchase oysters, barbequed oysters, cheese and the like. You can now order drinks and let the guys or gals behind the counter do the shucking or grilling while you sip on a cold beverage.

The lay of the land and sea.

This is where you catch the valet parking if desired, but there is usually 
plenty of parking on Highway 1.
Lucky me... lunch is on Jordan at Nick's Cove in Marshall. Merry Christmas to Mom!
   Jordan and I picked up our oysters, and stowed them away in an ice chest to take home. We then headed for Nick's Cove on Highway 1 in Marshall to have some lunch. Nick's is a very short distance from Hog Island Oyster Farm, and it is such a scenic place to have lunch or dinner, that it makes it easy to overlook the sometimes uneven service and pricey food. Let's face it... you are paying for that spectacular and tranquil view, also. Nick's does have a nice selection of local wines, and Jordan and I tried out a tasty Sauvignon Blanc from Jus Soli, which we both thought paired well with our fried calamari and Dungeness crab salads.

"Live to Shuck" is their motto at Hog Island Oyster Farm. This shot was taken at the
end of August on a day when no Winter jackets were needed.

1. Mark's Mignonette for Oysters on the Half Shell
2. How to Shuck an Oyster

Mark enjoying the winter sunshine at Hog Island Oyster Farm.
Mark loves to play with food and create new dishes. He also really, really loves oysters, and he makes a darn good mignonette sauce to go along with them. After some experimentation, he has settled on a base recipe with which you can make variations according to the season. At Christmas, Mark made the mignonette with fresh minced ginger and fresh grapefruit. I love his mignonettes because they are different than the usual fare served in restaurants.
   When I got around to finishing this post, it was late summer. As Mark and I headed out to pick up oysters from Hog Island so that I could shoot the final photos for this post, I asked him about food styling choices, and he suggested that we collect fresh seaweed from the coast for the platter I had planned. This was an instant no brainer for me, I loved the idea. So after picking up the oysters at Hog Island and depositing them with a large quantity of ice in an ice chest, we headed for my favorite place of all... the beach.

The water in Northern California is finally warm enough in late August 
to be enjoyable to my bare feet.
   In our search for fresh seaweed, I happened to find a tiny sea palm that I wanted to use on our oyster platter like a tiny palm tree. Mark didn't think this would be a very good idea. Turns out he was right on two counts. One:  I couldn't figure out a way to anchor it so that it would stand up. Two: Holding it up into position proved just how silly it would look if I ended up being successful in that endeavor.

If you are lucky enough to be able to collect fresh seaweed for your platter, keep it on ice until you get home and then rinse it very well. Beautiful platters can also be made with just ice and rock salt.
The oyster platter is ready with fresh seaweed and ice.
   If you have never shucked an oyster before, Mark is going to show you how in a detailed pictorial. But before you crack open your delicious morsels from the sea, prepare your mignonette sauce.
   On the way home from the beach we found peak-of-the season Italian red peppers that beckoned to us at a produce farm stand, and with that prompting of fate, Mark decided to use those flaming beauties in the afternoon's mignonette. Those peppers, along with a cucumber that we already in the fridge, were the seasonal experimentation that should be celebrated with abandon. Using what is already in your pantry, and also what is in season makes sense and is delicious to boot. Vegetables and fruits that are picked and eaten in season are superior in every way.

Mark's mise-en-place for his mignonette sauce for the oysters.

Very fresh raw oysters

3/4 cup champagne, red wine, sherry or rice wine vinegar
Minced shallots
Optional ingredients:
Chopped cucumber
Minced ginger
Minced chile (heat level
on your preference)
citrus fruits (flesh, juice and zest)
fresh minced herbs
pinch of sugar or 1-2 drops of stevia liquid

Oysters and sparkling wine are a perfect pairing.

The Sweetwater oysters from Hog Island Oyster Farm and Mark's Mignonette are finally ready.
What a show-stopper appetizer this platter makes. 

Procedure for the Mignonette Sauce:

Mince your shallots, peppers, and prep any other ingredients that
need chopping, grating or zesting.
Add your vinegar to the prepped ingredients and any other liquids,
seasonings and fresh herbs that you desire.
Make sure to taste your sauce and adjust the seasoning if it is necessary.
Give it a stir and the completed mignonette sauce is ready for the oyster platter.

How to Shuck an Oyster Like a Professional:

You will need an oyster knife and dry towels to open the oyster. Mark uses old flour sack towels to grip the oysters while he shucks them. Never try to open an oyster in your bare hand. The reasons for this seem abundantly obvious... it is dangerous! There are gloves that are made for this purpose as well that will protect your hands. So let's get started:

Keep your oysters very cold until ready to shuck.
It is worth repeating: Do not hold the oyster in your hand to 
remove the shell! Mark shows the insertion point only, and 
position of the shell. Position the shell with the deep side of the 
shell down toward the cutting board.
Use a towel, insert knife into the hinge joint and twist the oyster knife.
You will need to apply steady force. These oysters don't give up easily.
The top shell will pop off. Discard it. Do not lose the luscious "oyster liqueur" 
that is filling the bottom shell.
With the top shell removed, carefully loosen the oyster from its grip on the
shell by cutting the oyster loose, being careful not to lose the  liqueur in the shell.
Place the mignonette in the center of the platter if desired and then carefully 
put the oysters in position.
Scharffenberger Cellars in the Anderson Valley makes outstanding sparkling wine.
Spoon on the mignonette and savor every last drop of deliciousness.

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