It’s tough to secure a reservation for an oyster feast at Hog Island in Marshall, California these days especially after a feature on the Food Channel’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate (thanks a lot, Tyler Florence!) I called and requested a picnic table a few weeks out (“no”) then a month (“sorry”) and finally almost 2 months before landing an open spot late September. Although our reservation seemed like forever into the future, before I knew it we were ready to go with briquettes in hand (for grilling along with the “raws”) and a bevy of homemade mignonettes.
So here’s the deal: you get to Hog Island and find your picnic table. Then, you figure out how many to buy, light the coals and secure your “stash”. After many trips to Hog Island we’ve got a system: 50% Sweetwater (small or medium) and 50% Kumamotos or a total of about 100+ oysters (for, um…5 people.) The Sweetwaters we grill and apply a “farm BBQ sauce” (found in the Hog Island cookbook) and the kumies or kumos we shuck and slurp. While all the oysters are amazingly briny and fresh, it’s really the deep-cupped, buttery Kumamotos I await with foodie anticipation each and every time.
A native of Ariake Bay in Kumamoto Prefecture on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, post WWII the Kumamoto was thought to be a good alternative to the Olympia which was in danger of disappearance due to over-fishing and pollution. Oystermen were less enamored of the Kumamoto due to it’s long growing period (3 years). An effort to cross breed the Kumamoto with a faster growing variety ended up with something described as “a watery blob”. The resulting hybrid quickly spread to the rest of the stock and resulted in a scramble to find genetically pure stock to replenish the original Kumamoto stock.
With much of Japan’s original oyster beds (Hiroshima) in ruins, Kumamotos were in danger of disappearing altogether but were rescued from oblivion by seed found in a few places, namely Shelton WA (Taylor Shellfish) and Tomales Bay. As is the case with many trends “what’s old became new” and oysters – especially Kumamotos – rode the wave to popularity again starting in the 80’s.
To me, Kumamotos are special not only because of their unique taste but the dedication of many to preserve the legacy of this delicacy. As I attempt to slowly savor each bite my enthusiasm takes over and soon I am quickly – and happily – slurping oysters while enjoying a view of beautiful Tomales Bay with glass of wine in hand.