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...