Westport - a Seafood Feast - the Fall Simplicity Workshop

This piece we did for South Sound Magazine is very representative of our style and our approach to food/lifestyle photography.  We are hosting a workshop this Fall, and we would love you to attend, whether you be novice or expert!  We'd be honored to have you attend.  Please register for our Fall Simplicity Workshop on October 11, 2015, to be held at Aran Goyoaga's (@cannellevanille on Instagram) studio in Seattle, Washington.  Learn more here!

Westport, Washington is situated on the southern side of the mouth into Grays Harbor from the Pacific.  We’d heard of it, certainly, but had never visited.  Michael and Iwere born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and we have regularly popped in to other nearby coastal towns where the air is salty and brisk and you can’t cast a glance very far without your eyes falling on turquoise-colored netting, buoys, and crab pots.  There’s a particular desirable aesthetic and atmosphere to these towns, these charming little gems, and as occasional coast-touring Washingtonians, we were intrigued by the opportunity to take in Westport and report back.  So with visions of clam guns dancing in our heads, we readied ourselves for whatever it was we might find at the doorway to the Pacific.

It was the end of a long work week in the Kartes house.  Friday came, and I packed us a bag for the coast.  Noah could hardly wait.  Our sweet three year-old squealed with excitement as we loaded the Jeep.  “To the beach!” he cried.   A few days prior, I had picked up some new rubber boots for us all, plus a few shellfish licenses on the cheap at a local grocery mega-chain.  We both left work early that day, grabbed coffee, and headed west.  If you've never driven out to the coast through Olympia and taken the "TO THE OCEAN BEACHES" exit, then you are missing out on one of Washington’s prettiest drives.  Mist perpetually hangs low throughout the tall pines, and pastures sprawl around every bend in the road.  Once we hit Aberdeen, we stopped into the main grocer for supplies.  You know, the essentials:  ice cream bars, popcorn, and sandwich fixings.  

It was only about 30 more minutes until we checked into our cozy luxury beach house.   We got there, and it was exploring time!  Noah tore through the house looking for his bed for the weekend.  This was heaven!  Floor-to-ceiling windows, a chef’s kitchen, every amenity that promotes rest and relaxation.  It was already dark by this point, but we could hear the ocean and knew it was a very short jaunt beyond our back patio.  We unpacked, settled in, and went to sleep. 

Next morning, we discovered stunning views of the Pacific just beyond the tall grass west of the house.  We ate breakfast, and it was time to head to the marina to meet our tour guide for the weekend.  The marina was gorgeous with its fleets of crabbing boats, masts by the hundreds jabbing at the sky.  There was much to delight the senses:  weather-worn signs, fishing boats and friendly locals, the salty sea air and sea lions barking off the dock fingers.  There were ice cream parlors, seafood shops, and cute mom-n-pop restaurants, all just beckoning for us to come try something homemade.  The maritime museum was just a minute’s walk from the marina and welcomed us right in. We walked and talked all about Westport with Mike Coverdale – Westport Mike, as the locals call him.  He told us about interesting spots to visit, all about Westport’s many festivals, and all the fun things there were to do and see.  He took us to the Seafood Connection for fresh seafood, and, boy, it didn't disappoint!  Fresh oysters, giant Dungeness crab, and Petrale sole.  Dungeness is one of the world’s coveted delicacies and my favorite of all the crabs, and to think it's harvested off the coast of Washington.  We were set up for a feast on Sunday!  

After that, we went to Bennett’s Fish Shack for lunch to devour beer-battered cod the size of my forearm.  We loved every minute of it!  Noah had worked up an appetite and dove right into the lunch spread.  After lunch, it was time to head to the Grays Harbor Lighthouse.  At over 117 years-old, it is the tallest lighthouse in Washington and the third tallest on the west coast.  This majestic giant welcomed us in and we wound the staircase to the top.  The keeper of the lighthouse was extremely friendly, and she expounded on its rich history, the details of its construction, and explained why and how high tide at the lighthouse’s dedication stopped 400 feet from its base and over time shifted to 3000 feet away.  Her history lessons painted a vibrant picture of Westport’s rich past, and it’s a must-visit for those who make the trek to this little town.

After a satisfying nap (don’t you love vacation?), it was time for razor clamming .  This was the true highlight of our weekend.  Noah absolutely adored the whole process, ultimately abandoning his shovel and bucket for a clam net and clam gun.  The sun was setting on the vast beach, and there were clammers with lanterns as far as the eye could see.  We got the hang of it pretty quickly, and within an hour – thanks to the indispensable and highly skilled Westport Mike – we were at our limit.  Time to head home and clean 45 razor clams! 

We made grilled cheese and tomato soup, drank some local red wine, dove into cleaning the clams for our Sunday seafood feast, and then settled in for the night.  Sunday morning, we woke up early, drove to grab a paper, and we enjoyed the scenery in our ‘jammies.  Noah is my biggest helper in the kitchen, and he loved the idea of cooking what he caught.  On the menu: delicate fried clams, briny oysters with bright lemon aioli, and a gorgeous bouillabaisse with Petrale sole and little butter clams.  Then it was time to crack those gorgeous Dungeness crabs and dip them in butter.  Our brunch was perfection.  Sometimes it's a blast to cook on vacation, and this house with fully stocked kitchen provided the perfect setting for cooking with gusto. 

What a wonderful end to a delightful weekend in Washington’s paradise.  As we drove away from the beach house, the sun was setting and the sky contained hues of orange-pink and purple.  I couldn’t help but think, thank you, Westport, for the rest.  The weekend was everything we had hoped for and then some.  Just get there, you'll see.


Buttermilk Fried Oysters & Razor Clams

Serves 4
Prep 10 min
Active time 25 min
Total time 30-40 min

2 cups light tasting oil suitable for shallow frying, like grape-seed or canola.

1 lb. fresh small oysters
1 lb. fresh razor clams sliced in strips (if available)
1 cup AP flour
1 cup superfine cornmeal
1 tsp cracked black pepper
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup buttermilk


Pour buttermilk over the clams & oysters in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl mix all dry ingredients to form your dredge.  Place oil in a frying pan and heat oil until shimmering hot over medium heat.  Dredge the oyster or clam that has been sitting in the buttermilk into the flour mixture.  Coat evenly, shake excess flour off and lay oyster in the hot oil.  Repeat this process until you have around 7-10 pieces in the oil.  Do not over crowd your pan.  Turn once after 2-3 minutes or until you've achieved a golden brown crust and continue cooking for another 2 minutes.  Lay finished oysters on a plate lined with paper towels.  It should take no more than 5 or 6 minutes to cook each batch.  Expect about 4 batches.  Sprinkle finished oysters with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. 

Lemon dill aioli

1 cup good prepared mayo
Juice & zest of 1/2 a lemon
2 tbsp. fresh dill
1/2 clove fresh crushed garlic
Salt & pepper to taste

Mix and enjoy!  Keeps up to 3 days in the fridge.

Bouillabaisse or Fish Stew

Serves 4-6 adults
Prep time 10 minutes
Inactive time 60 minutes

2 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion chopped
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp kosher salt
3 heads of garlic smashed
1 28 oz. can crushed tomato (unsalted)
3 cups of your favorite white wine
2 cups chicken stock

1 lb. petrale sole or any white fish
1 lb. steamer clams
1 lb. prawns
 Lemon & parsley for garnish

In a large pot sweat the onions and garlic in the butter & oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and spices and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes.  Add tomatoes, wine & stock and simmer covered for one hour.  About 10 minutes until it's ready to be served, add the steamer clams, after 3 minutes add the chunks of white fish and prawns.  Cook covered and stir very gently for another 3-4 minutes until your clams have opened and the shrimp and fish are opaque.  Serve in big soup bowls with lemon wedges fresh herbs and hunks of crusty bread for dipping.

How to have fresh crab feast!

Serves 2-4 people

2 or 3 large cooked Dungeness crabs
1 stick of butter melted
1 bottle prepared cocktail sauce.  (You can make your own but I don't mind the bottled stuff)
1 lemon sliced

1 old newspaper, a set of nut crackers and small scissors for everyone eating crab and a bowl for discarded shells.

Spread the newspaper all over your table.  Set a small bowl of melted butter and cocktail sauce at each place setting of everyone eating crab.   Lay out the scissors & nutcrackers.  To clean your crab simple lift the top shell off with a bit of muscle placing fingers under the back lip of the shell.  Clean out inner cavity and break the crab into two halves.  Put him in the go ahead and eat pile!  Repeat this process as many times as needed for every crab.  Tell guests to grab a crab and eat!