Friday, September 27, 2013

Love, Love, Love Oysters!

Love, love, love oysters and if you're an oyster lover you understand the pleasure of slurping down a sweet, briny, fresh, raw oyster.  The taste of the ocean in one slurp!  I eat them with a little horseradish and a squirt of lemon, other times a little cocktail sauce, or maybe just a dash of hot sauce. 

True a raw oyster might be a bit much for some (especially an oyster newby), but baked, grilled or fried -  they’re always delicious. A favorite of mine is to dredge them through a mixture of Panko and Italian bread crumbs - a quick sauté in melted butter mixed with olive oil, then a little lemon, tarter or cocktail sauce - but go easy on the extras, you don't want to ruin the purity of the flavor.

Now if you’ve never tried oysters, I recommend that you go out and enjoy some fresh oysters somewhere and if you don't like them, never eat them again. But don't worry about it for there are tons of people who consider them to be one of the most delicious foods on the face of the earth and they’ll be happy to enjoy your portion.

For the truth with oysters is  – you either love them or you hate them.

So if you love them and want to be an oyster aficionado here are a few things you need to know.

*  Never say "oyster juice", say "liquor".  This is the natural liquid inside the oyster - it is precious and should taste amazing when consumed with the oyster when eating them raw.  It's part of the oyster slurping experience.

*  Never say "salty", say "briny".  They mean the same thing except briny eludes to salty like sea water salty and it just sounds better.

*  Never say "water", say "terrior".  Terrior is a set of charactistics of a certain place, like climate, geology, and geography which impacts the flavor of what is produced there.  Just like wine or cheese, oysters reflect the characteristics of the area they are grown in - the terrior.

*   Nothing pairs better with oysters than a nice dry sparkling wine. Whether it's Champagne, Cava, or Proscecco - oysters and bubbly enjoyed together are one of life's most decadent pleasures. 

*   Oysters are aphrodisiacs and scientists agree!  Read this article from The Telegraph and you'll see what I mean.

*   Remember the r-month rule - especially with raw oysters.  It's true that now a days oysters are perfectly safe to eat anytime and if you're cooking them you probably won't notice the difference, but raw oysters really do taste best coming out of the cold waters of the r-months.

Aside from the market or in a restaurant, there’s no better place to enjoy these fabulous bivalves than directly from the farmers along the Oregon and Washington Coast.  Yaquina Bay on the Central Coast of Oregon is the most convenient for me, so when I take a trip to the coast I  try to make a stop at the Oregon Oyster Company located on the bay in Newport, but you could find them farmed at many bays and inlets up and down the coast.  If you want the freshest (and when it comes to oysters, that’s what you want), the brackish waters in the back bays are where you’ll find them.

A Little Bit of History 

Along time ago the West Coast was populated by the small, but succulent Olympia oyster – a species harvested to the brink of extinction more than a century ago.  The decline originally started with the 1949 gold rush in California. San Francisco was in it’s hay day and the Forty-niners devoured the delicious mollusks by the bushel.  At that time they were abundant and the only oyster species that populated the West Coast from San Francisco up through the Puget Sound. 

It is estimated to take about 1,500 Olympia oysters to fill a gallon jug so as San Francisco Bay’s supply ran out, the industry soon move northward to harvest hundreds of thousands of “Olys”  for shipment back on down the coast.  

It only took a few decades to wipe out these natives in along the West Coast and the industry foundered until the early 1900's with the importation of the Pacific oyster from northern Japan.  This and the delightfully delicious Kumanoto (also from Japan) are the two main species grown commercially on the West Coast today. 

The Pacific grows faster and larger than any other species, and has a sweet, mild taste (some say salty cucumber taste) while the Kumanoto’s grow agonizingly slow, but are praised for their sweet, clean taste with a hint of honeydew. YUM…

As far as the little Olympia oyster is concerned there has been recent interest and some success in re-establishing the species in several California and Oregon bays as well as in Washington's Puget Sound.

You can learn more about this amazing bivalve and it’s place in the history of the Pacific Northwest by visiting the Oregon Public Broadcasting website.  They did a great piece called “The Oysterman” as part of series of programs for the Oregon Experience.  It’s a great story with wonderful vintage film footage and photos.

*** Photo Curtesy of The Island Grill & Raw Bar
****Photo Curtesy of The Food Network, Cooking for Real


Anonymous said...

Great, informative, beautiful and fun and yet I'm still sticking to razor clams - cooked razors! Although, maybe with enough of the bubbly......

Evelyn Meadows said...
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