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.