The morning couldn’t be any more beautiful as we head down to the dock to take our boat over to Jackolof Bay. We’re going oyster shopping today. Being able to boat over just a few bays to the west to get fresh oysters is one of the pleasures of living on Tutka Bay. Our resident otter is contently hanging around the dock, using his right foot like a rudder as he twirls around the water, munching away at a mussel. He rolls over, dives, and pops back up with a new snack. Crunch, roll, dive, and paddle. Our otter doesn’t seem too concerned with us anymore. He’s become a part of the landscape. A seal has found a perch on the big rock that’s only exposed at low tide. The seal is a new visitor for us so we all stop to take his photo.
We head off to Mike Nakada’s oyster farm. The working part of the farm is a series of rows of oyster cages, suspended mesh lanterns, submerged in the bay and marked by colorful buoys. There are so many oyster buoys here it looks like some beautiful futuristic art installation. Nakada’s operation consists of a series of floating platforms tied together along with several boats, large and small. A small platoon of “farmers” sort through a long tray of recently harvested oysters, picking off mussels and barnacles, dropping each oyster into a bucket designated by size.
Kachemak Bay oysters are so delicious in part because of the hand-harvested care they receive and, in part, by the cold clean water they live in. Oysters in Alaska don’t reproduce because the water is so cold. Although this might be labor-intensive for the oyster farmers to re-seed their stock constantly, the consequence results in plump meaty oysters that haven’t put any energy into reproducing. The cold waters of Kachemak Bay prevent bacterial invasion that might influence the quality of warm-water oysters.
I look through several grades of oysters and I actually decide on the less expensive “petit” size. The smaller size is perfect for our appetizers this afternoon out on the deck. Like any over-eager shopper, I buy more than I need. At home, I have an old lantern net that I can store my oyster supply right off the dock and keep the oysters healthy and alive in the cold ocean water. Of course, if you don’t have an ocean out your front door, you can keep oysters in the fridge for about a week as long as they stay nicely closed and smell like a fresh ocean breeze. Store oysters with their cups up so the liquid doesn’t leak out. They need to breathe, so don’t put them in plastic.
I decide today to make fried oysters. We almost always eat these beauties raw or lightly grilled but I have a hankering for something different. We try two different styles of batters: one is a flour and whipped egg white mixture that is more like tempura than breading. The other is a panko breadcrumb base. The result is delicious, crunchy oysters that we eat like popcorn as we watch our otter paddle around the cove.
Here’s how we made our fried oysters:
To make our first batter, we combined a half-cup of all-purpose flour with 1 whipped egg white, 3/4 cup water, a tablespoon of olive oil, all folded gently together in a bowl. We dried each oyster with a cloth towel (so the batter didn’t drip off), dipped the oysters into the batter, and fried them for a few minutes in a small pot of hot (350-degree) oil on the grill. We dropped a big handful of arugula into the oil to make a crispy, crunchy salad to go along with our oysters. We sprinkled the arugula with salt as it came out of the pot and drained it on a small mat of paper toweling.
On to the next batter — the panko bread crumb recipe, which definitely ups the crunch factor. We dusted the dried oysters lightly in cornstarch, dipped them into a small bowl of whisked whole egg, and rolled them in panko crumbs. Into our hot oil, out onto the towels, and a sprinkle of salt completed the process. We added lemons and a spicy garlic sauce (with just a hint of Asian flavor) to our oyster platter. Both batters were delicious but I think I preferred the panko version over the tempura-style batter. Below is the recipe for the dipping sauce we used.
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1 roasted red bell pepper, seeded, peeled and minced
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Sriracha hot sauce to taste (we used 2 teaspoons)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Add the garlic and red bell pepper together in a food processor. Pulse until the two are well blended.
- With the machine running, add in the mayonnaise and drizzle in the olive oil and sesame oil to blend.
- Remove the sauce from the food processor bowl. Add in as much Sriracha sauce as you prefer. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.