Many people have a summer garden, enjoying its bounty throughout the season and beyond, canning and freezing its overage to carry them through the winter months. My Dad was someone who studied his seed catalogs and made endless lists of vegetables to grow again or new varieties to try. My Mom was the food processor. When I visited them in their North Carolina mountain house during the summer, I’d help my Mom put up corn, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers. She taught me to use a pressure canner. Her pickle relish is now my most popular heirloom recipe. We weren’t farmers, but “Farm to Table” was was definitely our thing.
Unlike goin’ pickin’ in your backyard garden whenever YOU decide the time is right, both the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Skokomish Tribe set the seasons – and the quantity limits – for harvesting Hood Canal’s plentiful seafood. And when shrimp, clam, and crab seasons open, get ready to work hard for your supper!
It had been a while since we’d foraged a coastal area for food… Ken and his brother Joe trapped many a blue crab in Alabama’s Perdido Bay during our 1973 McWilliams Family Reunion. Sister-in-law Dylane whipped up gumbo AND deviled crab for 50! Then in 2015, Ken and I joined Carrie, Mat and baby Henry in Long Beach, Washington to dig for razor clams. We brought back bags of cleaned clam to the freezer of their home in the Seattle area.
When we visited Carrie’s Hood Canal cabin in late August this summer, she, Mat, and their two boys (Henry & Max) had already completed this year’s clamming and shrimping harvest work. But we were super excited to be there during the last part of the crabbing season. We loved the delicious Dungeness crabs when we lived in Oregon in the 1980s, and we were ready to drop cages and boil bodies!
Armed with crab cages, frozen crab bait blobs, and raw chicken legs to zip tie to the cages, we set out in Mat’s boat to try and trap our limit – 5 male crabs meeting size specifications per shellfish licensed fisherman. Our lofty catch goal was 15 keepers per day.
We dropped three baited cages a few times a day over several days. We never came up empty, and seven large crab was our biggest one time catch of keepers. We were thrilled!
Killing the crabs and removing legs and claws was a juicy endeavor relegated to the waterfront. The body parts of each day’s catch were boiled outside in Carrie’s huge stock pot, then shocked in ice water, drained, bagged and refrigerated.
Cleaning the complete catch every day was a little daunting, so several bags of claws & legs went to the freezer for future disassembly. Carrie and I had a picking party with all the crab we were going to eat right away. Those big Dungeness crab are meaty devils!
Luckily for all – especially raw oyster-loving Ken – oysters can be harvested from the Hood Canal beaches all year. There are areas of public access near Seabeck, like Scenic Beach State Park, but Carrie’s property has private beach access, which made foraging convenient, easy and fun. It was a tasty thrill for Ken to have an oyster on the half shell shucked on the beach by knife-wielding Carrie!
At low tide, Carrie gave us pointers on the oyster size she thought most tender. The boys carried the catch bags, helping us inspect and select our specimens. It didn’t take us any time at all to gather a bag full of beached live oysters.
The boys lined up our catch, and Carrie sorted through to choose the best dozen. They would go up to the cabin to be shucked, and their shells would later be returned to the sea. Oysters that weren’t selected were left on the beach to go back with the tide.
Between our fresh caught crabs and shucked oysters, and clams and shrimp stowed away in her freezer, Carrie produced several amazing Sea to Table meals during our visit. The first seafood dinner was an extravaganza, a trifecta of Grilled & Skewered Spot Prawns, Dungeness Crab Cakes, and Grilled Oysters with Herb Butter. It was a fine feast, for the eyes as well as the palate!
Grilled & Skewered Spot Prawns
During May & June, Carrie and Mat fished Hood Canal Marine Area 12 for a local delicacy, Spot Prawn (Spot Shrimp.) The meat is tender, juicy, and delicious, and many liken it to a combination of lobster and butter.
Once cleaned and shelled, Carrie coats the shrimp in a mixture of lemon juice, butter, garlic, chives (or shallot), salt and pepper. She then threads the coated spot prawns onto a bamboo skewer and puts them on the grill.
Grilled & Skewered Spot Prawns
- 2 pounds Spot Prawns Shelled, and deveined as needed
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 Tbs chopped chives or shallot
- salt to taste
- cracked pepper to taste
- slices of crusty bread or rolls
- Melt butter.
- Add melted butter to a medium mixing bowl and stir in the lemon juice, minced garlic, chopped chives (or shallots), salt and pepper, stirring until blended.
- Add the shelled and deveined shrimp, stirring to coat.
- Divide prawns and thread on six bamboo skewers.
- Grill on hot grill (450 degrees) for approximately 3 minutes on each side (6 minutes total.)
- Serve warm with crusty bread
Dungeness Crab Cakes
The hunt for “Dungies” begins in July and continues through about Labor Day, depending on the year. We were lucky to have plenty to enjoy while we were visiting, and plenty to put into the freezer. The crab is so fresh and delicious that Carrie prefers to use very little bread crumb in the crab cake, and none coating the outside, but that is optional. Ken and I were in charge of the sauteeing, and I’m afraid we over manipulated the little buggers a little too much. It’s best to only have to turn these crab cakes once so the minimal binding patties don’t break apart. (#lifelesson)
Dungeness Crab Cake
- 2 cup lump crabmeat
- Zest of whole lemon
- Juice of 1/3 lemon
- 1/2 shallot, diced fine
- 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp semi-dry chopped basil
- 1 tsp semi-dry chopped chive
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp horseradish (optional)
- 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise (up to 1/2 cup as needed to bind)
- 1 Tbs butter
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- Except for the mayonnaise, add all ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl, and toss together lightly.tossing
- Add 1/2 cup mayonnaise and gently stir to combine. Add the additional mayo, and slight amount more Panko, to help bind as needed.
- Add butter and olive oil to hot saute pan and swirl to combine. When bubbly, add crab cakes.
- Saute first side until completely browned and warmed through, the turn carefully to brown the second side.
- Remove cooked crab cakes to serving platter and serve.
Grilled Pacific Oysters with Herb Butter
After partially shucking the oysters, Carrie placed the cup-shaped shells with their oyster and liquor (natural juices inside the shell) onto a baking sheet. She made a flavorful herb butter, then spooned approximately half a tablespoon of the butter onto the oyster. Off to the grill! Love those charred edges. Delicious!
Grilled Oysters in Herb Butter
- 1 dozen shucked fresh oysters in half shell with natural juices
- 3/4 cup softened butter
- 1 Tbs minced garlic
- 1/2 small shallot, rougly chopped
- juice of 1/3 lemon
- 1/2 tsp semi-dry basil
- 1/2 tsp semi-dry chives
- 1/3 bunch of cilantro (tops only)
- splash of white wine
- salt to taste
- cracked pepper to taste
- Except for the oysters, add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until blended to create the herb butter
- Line a baking sheet with the oyster shells and top each with a dollop of the herb butter
- Grill on a hot grill (450 degrees) for approximately 5-7 minutes or until the oysters have shrunken by about half and are bubbling in the butter.
- Remove from the grill to a serving plate and serve
The second dinner starring our fresh caught seafood was Steak Oscar prepared by both Carrie and Mat. It was really such a treat! Mat grilled filet migon, and fresh aparagus, to perfection – the meat was so tender and the asparagus was slightly crisp temder. Carrie made a rich Hollandaise sauce with the brightest orange egg yolks I’ve ever seen. She warmed fresh crab, placed it over the steak topped with asparagus, and topped it all with the Hollandaise. A simple use of crab meat, and simply delicious!
Our final Hood Canal Sea to Table meal was Clam Chowder, a delicious send off before heading to the airport for home. Carrie uses a recipe from Hama Hama Company, a shellfish farm on the Olympic Peninsula on the other side of Hood Canal from Carrie. When she and Mat are looking for oysters or chowder without the work, they look to “Hamma Hamma!” You’ll find the recipe on the Hama Hama blog.
We used a combination of Hood Canal clams – butter clams, native littlenecks, and manila clams – that Carrie, Mat and the boys had already harvested and put into the freezer. Henry worked on his knife skills and helped me with the veg prep, and Carrie and Henry combined the ingredients and made the chowder. What a fun – and very tasty – afternoon project! [Photos by Carrie Parris]
Our visit to Washington State was wonderful for many reasons. We visited Mount Rainier National Park on our 49th wedding anniversary, and explored Olympic National Park with Carrie and the boys. I shopped for needlepoint supplies at one of my favorite shops, Thread Needle Street, in Issaquah. Ken and I walked Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island and had lunch overlooking the water at Doc’s Marina Grill. But the most wonderful days were spent with Carrie, Mat, Henry and Max out on the water, walking the beach, cooking, eating, and just being together.
Goodbye Hood Canal – you were awfully good to us!