Friday, April 1, 2011

the Wonderful Oyster !


Ok so here goes... if you have yet to eat an oyster in your life, hold on let me rephrase that... if you have yet to eat a raw oyster in your life here is my plea to get you to try...

First step is how to shop for one... in the Portland area there are three places that we frequent for our oyster fix... Harborfish Market (best selection) Brown Trading (nice varieties) and Free Range (not much selection).  When your shopping for oysters you want to remember a good rule of thumb... the colder the water the more salty, briny the oyster will be... therefore a oyster raised in the deep cold waters of the Damariscotta are going to have a higher salt content then an oyster grown near New York State.  We tend to eat oysters that are from Maine being the local supporters we are.. but occasionally we will give a Rhode Island, MA or even a Canadian variety a try !  The more you eat the more you'll like to experiment with all types.  Anyway all oysters will have a tag that states exactly when and where they have been harvested and if you can't see one just ask and someone will pull out the facts about the shellfish your selecting... there are a few things to look for when selecting oysters.  First smell it... it should smell like an ocean breeze, fresh & salty mmmmm. Second, look at the hinge, some are easier to open then others and if you look for ones with a defined gap it will be easier on you when it is time to enjoy them... third thing to look for is sound... clap a couple together and they should sound full not hollow... another way to test this is by shaking it a bit and listening.  Always ask for help if you are unsure... tell them you haven't had raw oysters before and you'd like a little help selecting some.  We did exactly that and ended up getting a few on the house because he wanted us to try a few different types and come back again and again... Anyway once you have your selections it time to open them up... I was going to make a video but have been limited with available time and found a video on youtube that does a good job showing you the ropes !

Now that you have them open and ready to go... here are some ideas to serving them up.
But first I would urge you to go bottoms up and see how they taste straight up... if you find them to salty maybe add a few drops of lemon juice... too fishy maybe a dash of tabasco... wanna bring out some of the sweet creamy flavor... try a little cider vinegar or white wine.  There are lots and lots of recipes all over the internet and if you wanna look more up usually they are called oyster minuet or mignonette.  We have tried many different ways to enjoy them... our favorite ends up being straight up with a nice Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc Wine or a Champagne... it is very tough to say one type of wine over another.  I also really enjoy a good beer to go with the salty flavors of  an oyster, so it depends on your creativity and your willingness to take a chance !

As for the environmental impact of eating oysters... here is a little food for thought.  Oyster farmers use many many different methods to "farm" oysters... there really are not to many wild varieties of oysters left... why, we ate them all many many years ago, in fact there are still some very prominent oyster shell piles remaining from some of these ancient oyster eating locations throughout the world !  Anyway the act of growing oysters in a farming operation is much more sustainable than any other aqua farming systems set up to farm raise fish.  With fish farms tons of nutrient rich foods are dumped into feed plots over stimulating the waters with an unnatural balance of nutrients from food deposits as well as fecal matter... with oysters the main goal is to grow them in pure clean waters... where the oysters spend their days sifting up to 50 gallons of water pulling nutrients through and cleaning the waters of the nutrient resulting in cleaner waters.  Why are clean water good for the ecosystem... well it allows the sunlight to penetrate deeper into the waters, creating wonderful habitats for natural grasses which create shelter for smaller fish and diversifies the environment.  I could go on and on about the positive aspects related to oyster farming but one thing to also consider is the harvesting methods.   Some oysters are handpicked by divers, some are grown in bags or other suspended contraptions,  those are obviously the more sustainable methods of harvesting oysters... other techniques such as  dredging with baskets does disrupt the beds however I have heard many oyster farmer liking it to harvesting a corn field... yes it seems very disruptive, however most oyster beds are kept to a very small scale and are always located in the same area's.. unlike much commercial dredging which disturbs miles and miles of seabed... oyster dredging is more accepted because of its limited impact.  Definitely ask your local fishmonger these important questions and you will surely be on your way towards a happy oyster eating experience.

We are always looking for new varieties however my favorite Maine variety so far has been the Glidden Points !

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