THE RANCH

When I hear the word ranch, I immediately think grazing cattle, cowboys, large pastures with soft rolling hills, and a red shed off in the distance. That’s probably a result of watching too many movies and television shows, however, preface ranch with Kualoa and the image immediately changes. Kualoa Ranch & Private Nature Reserve is a 4000-acre home to many big blockbuster films: Jurassic Park, Pearl Harbor, and LOST to name a few (wow do I feel dated with all these older film references). But, it’s also a working cattle ranch, shrimp, and oyster farm; Pacific oysters to be exact! Surprisingly, the more I tell friends that fresh Kualoa Ranch oysters are addictingly tasty, the more I realize that their ranching and farming are overshadowed by the more “exciting” tourist attractions.

Kualoa Ranch Oysters
Kualoa Ranch Private Nature Reserve

I’ve also been guilty of describing Kualoa Ranch as, “the place where they filmed Jurassic Park and you can ride ATVs…” and usually the conversation quickly continues with talk of tourist attractions and personal experiences of sore thighs from sitting on a horse or trying to whip the ATV without being noticed by the tour guide (there’s always that one friend on the ATV tour).

THE OYSTERS

Kualoa Ranch Oysters
Fresh Kualoa Pacific Oysters waiting to be shucked!

If you’re as obsessed with seafood as I am, chances are every visit to a restaurant has you immediately scanning the menu for fresh oysters, and if you’re lucky, you might see a familiar face; Pacific, Kumamoto, Gulf, Eastern, or Blue Point. Each distinctly different in shape, texture, and taste.  Unfortunately, this also means a lot of the oysters are flown in and sometimes at a premium. But all is not lost, a short scenic drive out to Kualoa Ranch, just inside past all the Hawaii and Kualoa themed souvenirs is an unassuming fridge which holds some unbelievably addicting oysters. Oysters, farmed in an 800-year-old Hawaiian fishpond, with a flavor profile perfectly fit to represent our local culture, the Kualoa Pacific oyster.

Kualoa Ranch Oysters
Oyster Fridge wedged between flowers and some fresh produce

Available on a first come first served basis Thursdays thru Sundays, you can pick up a dozen beauties for $15.70 (with tax); and if you’re worried they’re all spoken for, you can always call ahead to check. I’ll be the first to admit, when I tried these oysters in 2014, I was extremely naive, didn’t bother using google, and struggled using a small kitchen knife to get to those delectable morsels. Fast forward 5 years, one small casualty in the form of a cut finger, a $1 investment in an oyster shucking knife from DAISO, and a few YouTube how-tos later, eating fresh oysters just means taking a scenic drive to Kaneohe and a few short minutes of effortless shucking!

Kualoa Ranch Oysters
Freshly Shucked Kualoa Oyster

Kualoa Pacific Oysters offer a savory and distinct kelp flavor with an initial brininess that finishes with an umami only seafood could offer. Personally, I like a little bit of lemon, cracked pepper, and shoyu to round it all out. If you’ve avoided buying fresh oysters and shucking them out of fear, here are some helpful tips. You really only need two items, an oyster shucking knife and a kitchen towel, preferably one that you don’t particularly mind getting dirty.

Kualoa Ranch Oysters
Kitchen towel and $1 oyster shucking knife

Begin by placing the oyster between a folded towel and cupping the oyster. It’s important that you’re not pushing down on the top of the oyster; the goal is to hold the oyster firmly using the towel. Using the other hand, place the tip of the oyster shucker (if you’re desperate a butter knife works in a pinch) into the base of the hinge. There will be a noticeable notch that the tip of the shucking knife fits nice and snuggly into; wriggle the tip into the notch to get it nicely situated. While applying light pressure twist the knife and a satisfying pop of the oyster hinge should occur. Once the hinge is loose slide the knife along the top of the oyster shell to separate the succulent and plump meat from the shell, and voila, your first oyster shucked! A few more and you’ll be an oyster shucking machine!

Kualoa Ranch Oysters
Shucking an Oyster: Find the notch, twist, slide the knife along the top of the shell to separate, enjoy!

Having enjoyed half a dozen oysters at the beach park near Kualoa Ranch (I really wanted to eat them asap), I saved the other half dozen to enjoy at home and decided to see how the oyster would taste steamed.

Kualoa Ranch Oysters
Fresh lemon and cracked pepper on a freshly shucked oyster

It took a lot of will power and help from my wife to stop after eating six of the oysters. The other six, staring back at me, begging to be shucked and eaten would have to wait. I highly recommend bringing a small cooler with an ice pack inside if you don’t intend on eating the oysters right away; with traffic in Hawaii you never know how long it’ll take to get home.  

Once home, I decided to try my hand at a single steamed oyster. I washed and scrubbed the oyster, brought a pot with a 1/4″ of water to boil, in the oyster went (face up), and 3 minutes later out came an already opened oyster. No shucking necessary! The oyster now firm but still moist, the taste sweeter and less briny, and the meat plumped was perfect for an evening meal. If I had bought another dozen, I wouldn’t have hesitated with steaming half and eating the other half raw. In hindsight, I really should have bought two dozen; but there’s always next weekend!

Kualoa Ranch Oysters
Steamed Kualoa Oyster with splash of lemon, cracked pepper, and green onions

To anyone who hasn’t tried these oysters, give them a chance and support our local farmers. Take a scenic drive out to Kaneohe, catch a break from the hecticness of life, and enjoy some fresh delicious oysters. For myself, it was a welcome change of pace and turned into a nice picnic at the beach! Sometimes a good meal really is the best medicine.

Kualoa Ranch Oysters
Kualoa Oyster with lemon, shoyu, cracked pepper, and green onions

Kualoa Ranch
49-560 Kamehameha Highway
Kaneohe, HI 96744
Ph: 808-237-7321
www.kualoa.com