November 13, 2011

Mystic Oysters

A Mystic Oyster, in all it's glory.

Mystics are farmed in several locations within Mystic Harbor, Connecticut, by 2 farmers: Jim Markow and Steve Plant. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Jim Markow a few weeks ago, and I got a much greater appreciation for the details that make these oysters distinctive. 

Mystic farmers are members of Noank Aquaculture Cooperative, along with Karen Rivara (Peconic Pearls) and Brendan Smith (Thimble Island Oysters), which gives them access to oyster seed (baby oysters under 1/8" in diameters) grown by Karen on Long Island. (I'll do a longer post at another time to explain this process). Jim purchases this seed by the millions in early spring and move them into mesh bags set on the bottom of Beebe Cove until they get bigger, about two inches or so. All of these bags (which are huge, about 10 feet square) are frequently lifted off the bottom with a crane mounted on their boat to be sorted and to kill off any fouling that may have attached to the bags and oysters, then returned to clean bags and replaced in the Cove. Once they have matured a bit, they are taken out of the nets and placed directly to the bottom of the harbor in various locations to finish their growth. 

A life on the bottom is a tough one, however, as proven by the 70% mortality rate from seed to market. Predators such as green crabs, starfish, and oyster drills have devastating effects in bad years, as do sponges and macroalgae. Despite all of this, the finished oyster is an incredible product, exhibiting a full, firm texture, medium salinity, followed by a celery and mineral finish. 

If you can find them, do yourself a favor an order a few. You won't regret it.

Jim Markow's Boat in Noank, CT

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