Let me start by saying I’ve never been much for raw oysters. Jan loves them and actually convinces me to try one every so often, but I feel their greatness is wasted on me. If they’re considered delicacies and here I am thinking they’re only tolerable, I’d rather save the slimy mollusks for those who truly appreciate them.
However, one recent experience put the oysters in a slightly more favorable light. Visiting our friend Lucy in San Francisco, Jan and I thought we should take advantage of a gorgeous day and go for a drive through Marin County. Jan wanted to return to an oyster farm we’d passed on a prior trip – and Lucy was also an oyster fan who was thrilled about the chance to eat oysters fresh from the ocean.
We started our Saturday at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market to get picnic ingredients. At the Sur La Table there we were in search of the tool we would need later, more specifically, an oyster-shucking knife, since the place we were visiting only sold oysters and visitors were supposed to shuck the oysters themselves. An employee directed us to a knife and oyster-holder contraption and said this was made for the job. Having no experience in oyster-shucking, we took his recommendation and headed north.
It was a beautiful drive that seemed worlds away from the city we just left. We stopped in a market in Stinson Beach for the last few necessities we couldn’t get at the farmer’s market –Tapatio, white wine and beer – all the while our appetites grew steadily.
The parking lot of the Tomales Bay Oyster Company was packed, and the smells coming from each picnic tables’ barbeque was like a walk through an international food court. Next to us, one group prepared pot stickers and a spicy soy dipping sauce while their oysters cooked on the barbeque. On the other side, a group of friends pulled out a trio of freshly made salsas from a cooler brimming with food.
Jan returned with a bag of one dozen oysters in each hand, and I read over the oyster-shucking instruction sheet. We tried the fancy Sur La Table tool, but soon realized it wasn’t going to get the job done. Lucy and I went to find an expert, worried they would probably have a thing or two to say about our knife.
After quietly grinning and calling our tool “worthless,” we got a lesson from one of the oyster farmers himself, who generously lent us his knife – something purchased at a hardware store, not a culinary boutique. After a little work getting the right technique, Jan, Lucy and I took turns cracking open the oysters with a slight twist of the knife. We tried different toppings, from our neighbors’ salsas to our own Bloody Mary concoction of tomato juice, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, and Tapatio. When the oysters we’d placed on the barbeque began to open, we let them cool slightly before trying those topped with spicy mayo (mayonnaise mixed with the condiment of the day: Tapatio).
We took our time eating lunch, but we still weren’t able to finish the 24 oysters we’d bought. Between sips of beer and wine, enjoying the sunshine, and shop talk with our picnic table neighbors (comparing barbeque techniques, best toppings, etc.), we’d spent a wonderful afternoon stuffing ourselves while overlooking the calm waters of Tomales Bay. I’m not sure if it was the music, fun-loving atmosphere, or the company, but I’d managed to enjoy an oyster or two. Perhaps the recipe for the squeamish raw oyster eater is to simply shuck the oyster yourself. After all, putting in the effort to pry the thing open and top it with something you’ve prepared did improve the taste. While I don’t think I’ll be at a restaurant ordering raw oysters on the ½ shell anytime soon, I’d definitely go back for the do-it-yourself oyster-shucking picnic any sunny day of the year.