January 29, 2014

Pacific NW Trip

Back in September I flew out to Washington to visit a few oyster farms. Taylor Shellfish, Elkhorn Oyster Company, and Hama Hama Oyster Company were gracious enough to show me around and let me take some photos and ask a bunch of questions. Enjoy the photos!

First stop: Taylor Shellfish on Puget Sound
Taylor Shellfish crew harvesting oysters on the flats. 

Taylor Shellfish grows geoduck, the most phallic of all shellfish. 

(Geoduck is delicious, by the way.)

Second stop: Elkhorn Oyster Company in Willapa Bay
Digging some gigantic oysters out of the mud.

Oysters as far as the eye can see, the crew hard at work. (I helped out, for what is was worth)

Elkhorn Oyster Co. starts their spat-on-shell oysters strung on long lines off the bottom before finishing on the bottom. 

Third and final stop: Hama Hama Oyster Company on Hood Canal
Oysters for sale in the retail store chilling in circulated sea water. 

Growing oysters means working with the tides, in this case low tide was at 2:00 am. 

The shell pile outside the Hama Hama HQ, steadily growing since the 1950s. 

A HUGE thank you to everyone who put up with me on my trip: Marco Pinchot, Andi Shotwell, and Nick and Adam James especially. I hope you are all doing well!


April 24, 2013

Chesapeake Trip

This year has proven to be quite busy and, once again, the blog has fallen by the wayside. Here are a handful of photos from my recent visit to oyster farms in Virginia to keep you entertained.

Main grow-out area for Broadwater Oysters. (such and eyesore, I know)

Oyster cages to the left...

... and to the right (at Cherrystone Aquafarms)

A few of Sewansecott's cages on a small shoal off the Eastern Shore.

Think you've seen big oysters? Think again. (no, I didn't eat it)

Cages drying in the morning sun.

"It's hard work, but the view from the office is hard to beat." I agree.

Meet Ted Nowakowski, oyster farmer (Broadwater Oysters)

Baby oysters (called "seed") in upwellers

Wild oysters on the Eastern Shore! So great so see a wild population here.

Cage-grown seems to be the norm in this part of the country. 
If you look closely, there are clusters of wild oysters in the shallow water next to my shadow.

Hasty shot inside the tumbler at Rappahannock River Oyster Company. (I have a video too, I'll post it if there's any interest)

I had a great time, many thanks to all of the oyster farmers I met along the way!!


January 22, 2013

The (Great?) Oyster Boom of 2012

New York City is perhaps one of the trendiest cities on the planet, few can dispute that. Boasting a populace preoccupied with fashion, music, and food, NYC is a metropolis of Tomorrow, focused on that next big thing. Some of these trends may last years, while others may only last months, especially when it comes to food. Cupcakes are awesome (duh), but when did you last hear about a new cupcake shop opening? That fad has waned, like so many before it, thanks to the ever-changing desires of the consumer.

Despite my awareness of this pattern, it caught me a bit off guard when an acquaintance asked me recently if I thought the oyster trend was dying off. Perhaps because I'm so wrapped up in the world of oysters, I had never even considered that oyster-eating was a trend at all, but this question started the cogs and gears in my head moving (that's how thinking works, right?) and I had to do a little investigating. 

Since 2010, an inordinate number of oyster bars (or restaurants with large oyster programs) have opened in the 5 Boroughs -- I counted twelve before I gave up -- and at least double that number since 2000. In addition to the boom of oyster bars and restaurants, oysters were also popular in the media, especially in environmental publications. This certainly is the hallmark of a trend, but in reality there is a lot more to it than that. Let's put this in context, shall we?

     Some history:

4 of the 5 boroughs of New York City are located on islands, and the fifth (the Bronx) is on a peninsula with water to the east, west, and south. It is precisely because of its location that NYC became the city it is today, and it is generally safe to say that -- historically, at least -- much of the culture of the city has revolved around or otherwise included the sea. In fact, the consumption of oysters predates even the first European explorers (if only by a few thousand years), many of whom made particular note of the quantity and quality of the oysters found in what is now New York Harbor. 

Skipping ahead a bit, the New York City of the 1800s was still very much enamored with my favorite bivalve. Wooden carts and stands sold oysters -- both raw and roasted -- on the streets of the city to hungry passersby, and subterranean oyster cellars offered oysters in a myriad of preparations to anyone and everyone, often undiscerning of class (though those with more money often had nicer accommodations). Pearl Street, which was originally on the waterfront, was so named because of a large shell midden found there -- much later it was paved with oyster shells, and this is the association most people remember. 

Taking this information into account, it doesn't really seem fair to call the recent boom in interest in oyster a "trend" at all. If anything, it is simply a resurgence: the oyster is coming back into the hearts and minds (and stomachs) of New Yorkers. Exactly where they belong. 

(If you would like to know more about the history of oyster in NYC, check out The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky. It is a great read, and you can find it in most bookstores for under $20.)

August 8, 2012

Goings On

Hello everyone.

I know I've been neglecting this blog recently, and I apologize for that. I'm trying to support myself entirely via oysters these days, and I'm finding that that takes a lot of time and energy -- more even than I had anticipated. Here's a basic rundown of what I've been up to:

- I've scaled back my "real job" of shucking oysters (and generally being an oyster badass) to just the weekends, so that I can have freedom to pursue other ventures and yet maintain a steady income with which to pay my bills.

- I'm making decent progress on the oyster book that I'm writing, and I'm hoping to have enough of it finished and polished to start making proposals to publishers within the next few months.

- In addition, I'm also teaching oyster classes via Skillshare. So far, I'm teaching an intro-level class for people who want to learn more about oysters, and also including shucking lessons and a dozen oysters (per person) in the 2-hour class. There is a oyster/drink pairing class in the works, but I have to find a venue for the class that will allow the consumption of alcoholic beverages (I try to keep everything on the up-and-up).

- The majority of the remainder of my energy is going towards personal branding, building a website, and creating a small business to cater oysters for parties and such. This part is probably the most stressful.

It's been slow going, but I'm making steady progress. Unfortunately, all of these things take away from the time and energy it takes to create new blog posts, but it never really leaves my mind, so fear not! Updates will return once I get some of my other ventures under control.

In the meanwhile, if anyone would like to contact me about my side project or for consulting, etc. please email me at brady@theostreaphile.com and I'll get back to you in a jiffy.

Take care, I'll be back soon.

June 20, 2012

Effingham Inlet

With cups this deep, they can't be bad!
Effingham Inlet Oysters -- a.k.a. "Effing Oysters" -- are a unique oyster coming from the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Specifically, they are grown in a glacier-carved inlet (Effingham Inlet, obviously) closer to a fjord than anything else. This environment would serve as a fine example of what pristine can be: the water is deep and blue, the surrounding mountains thickly forested and emerald green, the lease site is only accessible by boat due to the steep sides. All of this has a major impact on the flavor and quality of the oysters grown here, but also on how they are grown.

Like most glacial valleys, the peaks plunge in an almost linear fashion to the very bottom of the inlet, meaning no beaches, not even shallows in which to grow oysters. However, Homo sapiens is an inventive species and the farmers of Northwest Aquaculture were able to develop a series of 26 rafts supporting a suspended-tray system to grow their oysters and mussels, along with an additional raft just for the FLUPSY, and two barges for storage and processing. It is an impressive array, visible even by satellite, and it allows them to grow some amazing oysters (I haven't had the mussels, but I'm sure they're great as well).

(Image by Google)

Effing Oysters are a tumbled oyster, meaning that each oyster is lifted from the water about once a month and put through a tumbler (think about a cement mixer made of wire mesh and you'll have a good idea what it looks like). Tumbling does three things: 1. this process makes it very easy to sort the oysters by size throughout the growing process by simply increasing the mesh size from one end to the other, meaning more consistency, 2. the tumbling action serves to remove barnacles and other unwanted organisms from the shells, and 3. by treating the oysters somewhat roughly like this, the thin, fragile shell edge is broken away, thereby strengthening the shells and improving the cup depth. After each trip through the tumbler, the oysters are given a rest period to allow them to repair their shells before being harvested and sold to restaurants and purveyors across the country. Also, during the warm months, the adult oysters are held deep below the surface before harvest to prevent spawning. 

These are C. gigas oysters, as are most oysters grown on this part of the world, and have flavors typical of the species: plump, buttery-smooth texture, sweet butter lettuce, and hints of salted cucumber. Coming out of the water at 3-4", these are relatively sizable oysters mainly due to the amount of meat held within those deep cups. Northwest Aquaculture also has an option for those put off by a beefy oyster, the Pacific Rim Petite, which has a comparable flavor profile in a smaller package.

If you can find them near you, slurp a few and you won't be disappointed. Order a crisp white wine or a carafe of sake and GET EFFED! 

June 13, 2012


Named after some guy related to Beyoncé.

The BeauSoleil oyster was for me -- and many others -- an introduction to raw oysters. Their clean, delicate, moderately-salty flavor make them a very approachable oyster for those taking their first trepidatious slurps. Grown by Maison BeauSoleil in Miramichi Bay, New Brunswick, where the waters are very cold and clean. Typical for the region (atypical everywhere else), the growers collect wild spat (baby oysters) from their local waters using devices known as Chinese Hats, then raise them in floating bags just under the surface of the water where it is warm enough for the oysters to grow and feed normally. Because the water is so cold this far north, ice can be a major problem, and freezing oysters kills them very efficiently. To avoid this travesty, they submerge the bags deep under the ice during the winter to protect them.

Like many plants and animals, in very cold environments oysters grow more slowly, which can result in a more compact, sturdy shell and firmer meats than is common in warmer climes. BeauSoleils are harvested at 3-5 years old between 2.5-3" and hand-packed into wooden crates cup-down to extend their shelf life. They also sell a larger size, marketed as French Kiss oysters, which are harvested at 5+ years old and are 3-4" in length (they're great if you can get them, super meaty).

What? You want to know about the connection to Beyoncé? Alright, here's the story:

BeauSoleil oysters are named after Joseph Broussard (nicknamed BeauSoleil, "Beautiful Sun" in French), a leader in the Acadian Resistance of the mid-1700s. In a nutshell, the British were trying to settle in New Brunswick and -- in typical British fashion -- attempted to expel those already in the area by force. Broussard and his militia troops captured 17 British supply ships in the summer of 1759, hampering the expulsion and earning him a place in local history. Later on, he moved a group of Acadians and his family (wife and 11 children) to what is now southern Louisiana. From his progeny, a star was born, albeit a couple hundred years later. I'm sure he had plenty of descendants who accomplished great things, but, really, who can compete with Beyoncé?

I wonder if she likes oysters...

May 8, 2012

Glidden Flat

 One of the most expensive oysters on the US market. 

Also generally referred to as Belons -- incorrectly so: according to AOC regulations only oysters from the Belon River in Brittany may be called Belons -- the European Flat (Ostrea edulis, if you prefer the scientific name) was introduced to Maine waters in the 1940s, where there is now a successful wild population. This is a boon for oyster lovers in North America, as these oysters have a particularly weak adductor muscle, meaning they can't keep their shells closed tightly for long periods at a time, so they have a very short shelf life and cannot be shipped very far. In other words, it's very unlikely that you will see any French Belons on this continent. Also, to be fair, the vast majority of true Belons are ingested by the French, so there is no reason for them to leave the country.

O. edulis is not your typical oyster. For one, they grow almost perfectly round, as opposed to the gentle teardrop of Crassostrea virginica (the Eastern Oyster) or the frilly edges of Crassostrea gigas (the Pacific Oyster). They look more like a partially-flattened scallop than an oyster, as does the meat inside. Secondly, they smell and taste... well... assertive is the adjective I like to use when describing them. I've found I have to give my knife a good rinse in between shucking these and virginicas to keep from carrying over some of the flavor. It is often said that oysters (particularly the eastern oysters) should smell and taste like clean sea, these tend to bring the vision of a seashore at low tide in August to mind. A good comparison would be that of sweetened fish sauce (the good stuff): pungently sea and a bit of fishiness, tempered by a healthy salinity and mild sweetness. Addictive to some, unpalatable to many, this is an oyster I always hesitate to recommend to a stranger. I've been known to sit down to 30 oysters by myself, yet I can only get down a couple of this species.

It might seem like I'm down on these oysters, but that is far from the truth. I like the idea of them. The simple fact that they exist and people like them makes me happy. I could go into the technical differences in the species, but I fear this post will become too long and boring.

We buy our edulis from Barb Scully of Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm, who uses the name Glidden Flat. The oysters come with their shells held firmly shut by rubber bands (remember the weak adductors?), and are fairly consistent in size, shape, and quality. Though a few might disagree, I consider these to be best opened by experienced shuckers; the shells can be razor sharp, and the method of opening is different, and takes a measure of finesse. So wear gloves or use a heavy towel, or both, when shucking these oysters.

All in all, if you consider yourself the adventurous type and you come across Belons or other examples of O. edulis please try them. If only to know what they're like. I promise you'll never have another oyster that can compare.