December 13, 2011

Chatham Oysters

A Chatham Oyster, they taste better than they look if you can believe that.

At the "elbow" of Cape Cod lies Chatham, a small town bordered on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, which has always been entwined with the local community and economy. Once a center for whaling and commercial fishing fleets, it is now more synonymous with summer resorts and vacation homes and is a convenient port for those sailing to Nantucket Island. However, some people here still make a living from the sea, and Stephen Wright of Chatham Shellfish Company is one such person. 

Chatham Shellfish Company has been cultivating oysters in the Oyster Pond and Oyster River system for over 30 years, and for that last decade it has been run by Stephen Wright. Given his history in aquaculture, Stephen is the perfect person to run an oyster company and, in my opinion, has been coming to market with an exceptional product. The oysters here are grown from purchased seed and given a jump start in a FLUPSY system built into the docks before being moved to a floating nursery in Oyster Pond. This nursery consists of rows of floating mesh bags (seen in the photo below) which are flipped over frequently to kill off anything growing on them -- it is important to keep the equipment clean so that the water flow to the baby oysters doesn't become clogged and suffocate them. To sort the oysters by size, Stephen uses a mechanical sorter made up of a series of screens of decreasing size attached to a metal frame, which is shaken by a large motor. It's quite a system, and I was sad I didn't get to see it in action.  From here, they are grown in a variety of ways: traditional rack-and-bag method is used the most, but some oysters are placed in plastic trays laying on the bottom and the slow growers are moved directly onto specific areas of the pond floor to mature at their own pace.

Few things in the world are better than an oyster eaten on the spot where they are grown, still frigid and wet from the cold estuarine waters, and these did not disappoint. Already firm and fat in October, they delivered a cold smack of pure salt, followed by the sweetness of the adductor muscle and a clean, slightly mineral finish. Harvested to order, these are a solid choice for any raw bar, and will always remind me of that early morning I spent freezing my ass off on a boat in Chatham. 

Part of the Chatham lease at sunrise. 

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