… I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine…
I am not dreaming or exaggerating, and I am certainly not having any Lewis Carroll moments when I say that such place does exist. Not too far north of San Francisco and just off the sinuous Highway 1, exists a lush green haven where the Pacific Ocean bows to and kisses the majestic cliffs and narrow beaches of Point Reyes. A deep cape that shelter’s Drake’s Bay, Point Reyes is home to the verdant National Seashore Park, as well as Alamere Falls, one of the only waterfalls in California that drops straight into the ocean. Point Reyes is a site for sore eyes and a must stop for those escaping the bustling (and overwhelmingly congested) city.
And because you are already in Marin County, what makes the trip all the more worthwhile is a stop at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company(TBOC) for some of the freshest farmed oysters and clams you’ll ever eat. Pulled straight out of the protected estuary, the oysters are perfect for immediate consumption or tossed on a hot grill, if that’s more your preference. A little lemon and Tapatio, or a freshly tossed mignonette sauce, and you are all set to enjoy your oyster. And there is no better complement to fresh Manila clams than a rich sweet saffron sauce or perhaps a creamy Alfredo sauce served over a nest of fettuccine.
I somehow manage to make a trip every year to Tomales Bay – it really is worth the freeway-induced nausea. Every time we’re here, we bring our own grills and pots and picnic the gourmet way. All our recipes are below. Enjoy!
Mussels/Clams with Saffron and Mustard
So this dish is something I learned from the revered Thomas Keller on my visit to Bouchon in Yountville. The bivalves are steamed in a sweet and tangy bath of aromatics and creamy butter, just until they peep open. The steam will certainly scintillate your senses as you inhale the fragrant shallots and white wine, the mellow and warm saffron threads, the tangy mustard, the fresh and earthy thyme. This dish is absolutely divine, and it is best served when hot and best enjoyed if you just use the shell to ladle the broth right onto the mussel meat and slurp it straight out of the shell. At Bouchon, the dish is served with a tall cone of matchstick fries, but I love nothing more than having a crunchy, hearty, thick bread on hand to soak up all that delicious liquid.
Notes: Mussels/clams tend to be quite briny and salty, so there is no real need to add too much salt to the broth. Also, the broth can easily be used a couple of times with several batches of mussels/clams, though it does become saltier with each steaming.
4 lbs mussels or clams (smaller = sweeter typically)
12 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 c shallots, diced
2 tsp thyme, minced
24 cloves Garlic Confit (see below)
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/4 c Dijon mustard (no other mustard will do; this dish needs the acidity)
2 c dry white wine
4 pinches saffron threads – you can find this at Trader Joe’s
Rinse mussels/clams under cold water and scrub if necessary. Set aside.
Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, reduce heat to low and cook until fragrant. Add mustard and wine, bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 2 minutes. Add saffron, cover pot, remove from heat. Allow broth to steep for 5 minutes, before placing back on high heat and bringing to simmer. Add the mussels/clams and cook with lid closed until shells have opened, or about 3 minutes. With lid still closed, toss the shells a few times to ensure broth coats mussels/clams. Serve immediately.
Spread 3 bulbs-worth of whole, peeled garlic cloves into a small saucepan and submerge with enough olive oil to completely cover the cloves. Simmer the garlic and oil for 30-40 minutes, until the cloves of garlic are tender, and only slightly caramelized. Remove from heat and allow to cool before storing. This is a terrific spread by itself on crusty bread, and it is used in a multitude of Bouchon recipes. Keep it handy in the fridge.
A mignonette sauce is simply a vinaigrette that complements and bring out the complex flavors of a raw oyster. A raw oyster has a silky liquor that acts like oil in a typical vinaigrette. The actual mignonette sauce is the acid that balances the fat, and intensifies the sweet and natural brine that is so characteristic of oysters. Simple to make, this sauce is best made several days in advance as it tastes better with age.
2 tbs shallots, minced
1 c champagne vinegar [or white wine vinegar]
2 tsp black pepper, freshly cracked
Combine all ingredients and chill. Serve with oysters or clams on the half shell.
My Point Reyes trips have never disappointed. It’s one of the many things I look forward to about summer. Long walks along the seashore, climbs to the Lighthouse, getting lost in the lush woodlands. I’ll see you on the trails after a quick stop for some oysters.