Seattle doesn't have just mountains, fertile valleys and farmlands within its reach, but Puget Sound—the ocean inlet that has shaped the Pacific Northwest's vibrant seafood culture for years. Just ask Taylor Shellfish Farms, the fifth-generation, family-run company with roots in the sound's fertile tide lines.
"The Puget Sound is this super-special waterway in the United States that is one of the most fruitful places . . . it grows shellfish that you can't grow anywhere else," Marcelle Taylor, family member and the farm's marketing manager, says. "Our natural landscape of the area and the cleanliness of the water has allowed our shellfish to flourish over the last few decades."
Photo: Brooke Fitts
The company, which started back in the 1890s, owns everything about the process, from the hatchery, nursery and farms to the trucks that deliver its seafood to more than 150 restaurants throughout the greater Seattle area—including Taylor Shellfish's own spots.
Taylor says those dining rooms came about naturally as a way to meet the demand Seattleites had for their now-renowned oysters. They started first as just a shellfish market, where home cooks and chefs could get quality, sustainably raised products, but once customers began asking employees to prepare their oysters for them, opening a full-service bar seemed obvious. Now, those four restaurants close the circle of Taylor Shellfish's tide-to-table philosophy, which sees seafood throughout its entire life cycle, from oyster seed to Sunday brunch.
Perhaps one of the farm's most infamous bivalves that shows up around Seattle menus is geoduck, the enormous, phallic-looking clam that grows only in either the Pacific Northwest or in parts of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. "It's kind of this new food group that has hit the United States, and now people are wanting to see more unique protein options and fresh local food," Taylor says. "So geoduck has become popular in the big metropolitan cities across the United States, including Seattle. A lot of the top chefs love to use it."
Taylor Shellfish's own bars serve it sashimi-style, so you can fully taste the briny, clean flavor—though it would be hard to miss in the tons of other preparations around the city, whether in stews and chowders or the geoduck risotto at Salare.
It's not just luck that allows shellfish (and Taylor Shellfish Farms) to flourish, but the Puget Sound's unique high tidal switch, which keeps the water moving and the waterways—and shellfish—extraordinarily clean. Another key factor is the fact that Washington is one of the only states in the U.S. where you can own tide lands: Individual homeowners can lease their beaches for harvesting, like the hundreds of people who do it for Taylor Shellfish.
"When you think of different states, you think of Idaho and potatoes and Wisconsin with cheese, and when people think Washington, they think shellfish," Taylor concludes. Chances are, you can probably thank her family the next time you're slurping up a fresh Olympia or Kumamoto.
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