Northwest food writer Cynthia Nims sets her sights on the Pacific Coast’s most iconic bivalve with her latest cookbook, Oysters: Recipes That Bring Home a Taste of the Sea (Sasquatch, January 19). It's more a comprehensive study than your standard recipe book, sprinkled with anecdotes to illustrate how oysters have a way of bringing people together–cut to a scene of Nims casually watching Julia Child slurp down an Olympia oyster.
An ample aside on booze pairings (you can't go wrong with bubbly or a crisp white wine) precedes 30 or so recipes ranging from novice friendly to deceptively complex (think alder smoked oysters or Oysters en Escabeche), but plenty of pro tips for tools and preparation make the more involved dishes less intimidating. Nims pays tribute to the classics as well, from champagne vinegar-roasted shallot mignonette to oyster chowder with leeks and bacon. Recipes are designated in four separate sections: raw, baked and grilled, fried and sauteed, and steamed and poached, with frequent digressions on serving method and style.
Beginning with the raw recipes is perhaps reflective of a shift in the nature of the industry. While in the past the lion's share of oysters were sold preshucked for cooking, now sales are primarily driven by oysters sold raw on the half shell.
Those already familiar with buying, storing, shucking, etc., can skip straight to recipes, but if it's your first go-round with cooking oysters at home (or serving them raw, for that matter) the "Basics" intro is a helpful guide for everything from sizing up oysters at the market to preventing bodily harm when shucking by hand.
Major growing regions and local oyster varieties are also highlighted, from Kumamotos to European Flats (scientific names included, of course), followed by a primer on the institution of the Pacific Coast oyster bar. Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco and Dan and Louis Oyster Bar in Portland top the list for authenticity–there's a salute to Pacific Northwest staple Elliott's and newcomers Little Gull and The Walrus and the Carpenter, but not without a dig at Seattle's conspicuous lack of old-guard spots.
If you're not an expert in all things oysters after reading, you'll at least be able to throw around words like merroir (the seafaring version of terroir) at the water cooler.