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 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.

April 21, 2012

R is for Oyster

(I'm coming back! And what better way to ease back into writing than by posting a short essay by M. F. K. Fisher? Enjoy.)

R is for Oyster
By M.F.K. Fisher, from Consider the Oyster (C)1941

C. Pearl Swallow
He died of a bad oyster.

That is carved on a tombstone in a graveyard in Maine -- Paris Hill, I think the place is called. The man's name was good for such an end, but probably the end was not.

If Mr. Swallow really died of a bad oyster he was a most miserable man for some hours, certainly. The bad oyster itself was rotten to his taste, so that he knew as soon as he had eaten it that he was wrong. Perhaps he worried a little about it, and then forgot and ate other things to rub the coppery taste from his tongue. He may, even in Maine, have washed it down with a drink.

In two or five or six hours, though, he remembered. He felt faint, and cold fingers whuddered over his skin, so that he reeled and shivered. Then he was sick, violently and often. He could barely lift his head, for the weakness and the dreadful cramps in his belly. His bowled surged, so that he felt they would drain his very heart out of him. And, God, he was thirsty, thirsty. . . . I'm dying, he thought, and even in his woe he regretted it, and did not believe it. But he died.

Perhaps he died of a bad oyster. Oysters can be bad, all right, if they are stale and full of bacteria that make for putrefaction. Mushrooms can be deadly, too. But mushrooms and oysters are alike in that they take the blame, because of superstition and something innately mysterious about their way of life, for countless pains that never are their fault.

It is true that people have died from eating mushrooms, because there are at least two deadly ones and innocently or not, men have been fed them. It is true, too, that some men have eaten rotten oysters and died, hideously, racked with vomiting.

But quite often, I feel sure, mushrooms and oysters too are blamed for sickness that could equally be caused by many things like piggishness or nerves or even other poisons.

What man knowingly would eat a bad oyster, anyway? A bad oyster looks old and disagreeable in its shell, and it smells somewhat of copper and somewhat of rotten eggs. Of course, it might be hidden in a pie or a patty or under a coating of rich spiced sauce in a restaurant. But even so, a man's tongue would warn him that something was very wrong, I think, unless he was half under the table he sat at.

(In this, the oyster is kinder than the mushroom, which can taste most delicious when it is most deadly. And that is seldom, I insist.)

And in case a man's tongue warns him that he has a last swallowed that gastronomical rarity, a bad 'un, he should leave the board at once and do what men have always know how to do, even the dainty ones, and get rid of it.

There should be no mistaking it, once on the tongue. When people say, "I must have eaten a bad oyster yesterday . . . I've felt a bit dauncy ever since!" you can be sure that they have eaten a great many other things, and have perhaps drunk over well, but that they certainly have not swallowed what is so easy to blame. If so, they would have known the unpleasant truth immediately, because it would taste so thoroughly nasty . . . and of course within six hours or less they would have been sick as hell, or even dead.

Probably more people eat oysters now than ever before, because it is easier to ship them from their beds and bottoms to the dining tables of this nation and any other nation whose people still have time for such things.

The old-fashioned habit of sniffing each oyster more or less delicately before swallowing it is as nearly extinct as its contemporary trick of gulping, with an all but visible holding of the nose which was considered genteel . . . and so much safer.

Restaurants, even air-cooled perforce in the midst of hot sand, like Palm Springs, or as far from the sea as Oskaloosa in Iowa, can serve oysters without fear these days. Tycoons with inlets in Maryland have their highfalutin mollusks frown for supper that night to a penthouse in Fort Worth, or to a simple log-cabin Away from It All in the Michigan woods, and know that Space and Time and even the development of putrescent bacteria stand still for dollars. Bindlestiffs on a rare bender in Los Angeles (Ell-ay, you say) gulp down three swollen "on the half's" with rot gut whiskey chaser in any of a dozen joints on Main Street, and are more than moderately sure that if they die that night, it won't be from the oysters.

Men's ideas, though, continue to run in the old channels about oysters as well as God and war and women. Even when they know better they insist that months with R in them are all right, but that oysters in June or July or May or August will kill you or make you wish they had. This is wrong, of course, except that all oysters, like all men, are somewhat weaker after they have done their best at reproducing.

Several decades ago, a jolly man wrote:

"Let's sing a song of glory to Themistocles O'Shea
Who ate a dozen oysters on the second
Day of May . . ."

And even the government tells us R's are silly. "A clean fat oyster may be eaten with impunity at any time of the year," the officials say in folder after folder.

Doctors tell us so. "Hell, if it smells good, it's okay," they say, with modifications dictated by their practices and their positions in the Association.

Men who write pamphlets call Hypochlorite process of oyster purification, report on experimental purification of polluted oysters, on commercial scale, by floating them in sea water treated with hyperchloride of calcium. (Public Health Reprint 652.) . . 5 . . T27 . 6/a:652 say so, as do earnest Japanese who deliver papers before the Kokusai Yorei Kabushiki Kaisha called Kaki no banasi, which means Talk on Oysters, with surprisingly un-Oriental bluntness.

They all say that oysters are all right any time as long as they are healthy . . . all, that is, except the oyster-farmers.

The farmers' actions are understandable, after all. Their main interest is in growing as many good crops as they can, and it stands to reason that if a healthy female, round with some twenty million eggs, is takes from the water before she has a chance to birth them, the farmers lose.

May and June and July, and of course August, are the months when the waters are warmest almost everywhere along the coasts, and it is remarkable convenient that oysters can only breed their spawn when the temperature is around seventy degrees and in months with no R's in them. How easy it has been to build a catchy gastronomic rule on the farmers' interest in better crops!

People who have broken the rule and been able to buy oysters in the forbidden months say that they are most delicious then, full and flavorsome. They should be served colder than in winter, and eaten at the far end of a stifling day, in an almost empty chophouse, with a thin cold Alsatian wine to float them down . . . and with them disappear the taste of carbon dioxide and sweaty clerks from the streets outside, so that even in July in a big city seems for a time to be a most beautiful month, and C. Pearl Swallow's ghost well-laid.

February 19, 2012

It's temporary, I promise.

I've had some pressing issues I need to take care of, so this blog has fallen low on my list of priorities for the time being. HOWEVER, it will be back. And probably more frequently updated as I had originally promised.

Seriously, just give me some time.

Thanks for waiting...