A Taste of the Pacific
Seafood farmers create niche markets with B.C.’s fine catch
By Judy Creighton
The Canadian Press
Many of the customers who stop to pick up fresh oysters at Mac’s Oysters Ltd, in Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island waste no time digging into their purchase.
“People open the containers in the car while they are still in the parking lot and eat them raw,” chuckles Gordy McLellan Jr., the affable general manager of the busy clam and oyster plant on the old Island Highway 25 kilometers south of Courtenay.
The company, founded by his grandfather 51 years ago, cultivates oysters and clams on about 97 hectares of shoreline both at Fanny Bay and on leased land near Powell River, B.C.
Mac’s employs about 50 people, some of whom spend their days shucking oysters or digging clams to be sent for processing or fresh consumption in other parts of western Canada and the U.S.
McLellan says demand for oysters and clams is growing, especially in the value-added processing market.
“There is a lot of interest in ready-to-serve meals such as oysters Rockefeller,” he says. The most common version of this is oysters on the half shell topped with a mixture of spinach, butter, breadcrumbs and seasonings which can be either baked or broiled.
The clams and oysters from Mac’s are trucked south to St. Jean’s Cannery and Smokehouse in Nanaimo. There, the oysters are smoked and canned and the butter clams are minced and packed into tins.
Gerard St. Jean, son of the founder Armand St. Jean, whose first profession was wrestling in the 1940s and ‘50s, says his dad started the cannery and smokehouse in the garage of their Nanaimo home in 1961.
“He started out by making clam chowder and smoking oysters,” he says, “and that led to the canning and smoking of sport fish.”
About 20 years ago, St. Jean joined his father in the business and assuming ownership when he died in 1990.
And although it’s a small cannery, St. Jean notes the business fills a high end niche, and sells by mail order through the Internet at www.stjeans.com.
The canned products include smoked salmon, albacore tuna, salmon, smoked oysters, butter clams, seafood soups and chowders and patés.
“We also package mustards, antipastos, wild Vancouver Island mushrooms such as chanterelles for specialty stores and supermarkets both in Japan and the U.S.” says St. Jean.
Recently the cannery added a gift shop and puts together gift baskets containing its products.
During the fishing season, the smokehouse is constantly in use as sports fishermen bring their catches in for smoking and canning.
“We deal a lot with the lodges and fish camps and those areas where people are fishing,” says St. Jean. “Now that the allocation for spring salmon is going towards sports, we are filling many more individual orders.”
Sports anglers can take their catches to St. Jean’s where they will be custom canned, smoked, vacuum packed and filleted, says general manager Gwen Gates.
In the smokehouse, individual catches have a choice of smoke — hot (barbecue style), Indian candy, honeyglaze and lox.
“The smoking process takes about a week and canning can be done in four days,” St. Jean says.
The following recipes were developed at St. Jean’s Cannery and Smokehouse in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
Linguine with Red Clam Sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
30 mL (2 Tbsp) olive oil
¼ chopped onion
625 mL (2 ½ cups) crushed tomatoes
2 mL (1/2 tsp) oregano
1 mL (1/4 tsp) basil
30 mL (2 Tbsp) chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 284 mL (10 oz) can butter clams (minced)
450 g (1 lb) linguine
Brown garlic in olive oil in a heavy skillet or pot. Saute onion until transparent. Add tomatoes, oregano, basil, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add clams and cook another 5 minutes. Cook linguine in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain. Spoon sauce on top and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Lomi Lomi Salmon Tomatoes
1 box cherry tomatoes
1 185 g (5 ½ oz) can smoked salmon
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
Squeeze lemon juice
30 mL (2 Tbsp) chopped parsley
Cut off and discard tops of tomatoes and cut very thin slice off the bottoms so they will sit steadily. With tiny spoon, carefully remove pulp from insides and pat dry. Cover and refrigerate. Combine tomato pulp, well chopped with rest of ingredients, cover and chill. Fill tomatoes with the stuffing about two to three hours before serving and arrange on lettuce leaves on a serving platter.
Smoked Salmon Cheese Ball
1 225 g pkg cream cheese
125 mL (1/2 cup) cheddar cheese, grated
1 158 mL (5 ½ oz) can smoked salmon
30 mL (2 Tbsp) chopped green onion
Mix all ingredients well. Form two balls and roll in flaked almonds. Serve with crackers or crudités.
- In British Columbia, allocations for spring salmon catches are directed to sports fishing, rather than commercial, because of declining stocks.
- Oyster farming is becoming more common and one of the species being produced is an all-purpose bivalve mollusk which goes by the name of crassostrea gigas.
- Manila clams are a wild species and can be cooked in the shell fresh, while the butter clam is ideal for chowders. The littleneck is a steamer clam.