Know Your Source: Oysters from Point Reyes Oyster Co. with Anna’s Go-to Mignonette

It’s oyster week, partly because the ocean was too rough for the little boats to make it out, but mostly because our locally farmed oysters are daaaaaaaaaamn fine. Friends, I am here to tell you that aquaculture can be good! When I talk about sourcing aquacultured shellfish, I am often greeted by a look of oh-em-gee-what-sort-of-chemicals-are-going-to-be-in-that-FRANKENOYSTER terror. Aquaculture has earned its bad reputation. There are some dirty fish farms out there that devastate the surrounding environment and produce a product that is similar in taste and chemical make-up to a rubber tire.

We all need to learn to find and eat responsibly farmed fish. More than half of the seafood consumed in the world is aquacultured and the industry is constantly making advances that lead to better tasting fish and less negative environmental impact. Some farms are already doing great things.

Shellfish mariculture (aquaculture in salt water) is especially clean, and the results are just as tasty and more consistent than wild creatures. In fact, I would say that maricultured shellfish is actually safer to consume than wild unless you REALLY know what you are doing when gathering it. You are probably not going to find oysters in a store or restaurant that were not farmed. Oysters and other bivalves actually clean the water, so the waters in and around oyster farms are consistently tested for chemical contaminants and the algae blooms that can cause red tide. A farm can only harvest if the water conditions are right. Locally, oyster farms are shut down for a couple of days after each rainfall to allow the oysters to expel any toxins that may have run down from the hills with the rain water.

This week we have two varieties of oysters from Point Reyes Oyster Company. Your oysters will be mixed together in the same bag, but they will be easy to tell apart. The Miyagi’s are triple the size of the Atlantic’s and their shells are very different. First up, the Point Reyes Miyagi.

The Miyagi’s have a gorgeous cream and purple shell with a nice deep cup.

They are cultured in floating bags that are placed in the top of the water column where algae is most dense. They are salty and not at all wimpy. These are great on the half shell with mignonette (see below) and they hold up well to grilling.

Next, we have petite and mild Atlantic oysters. You may be thinking, “How the hell are these Atlantic oysters local?” Well, Atlantic refers to the variety, or seed that the oyster was cultured from. They were grown right here in Point Reyes.

They are petite with cream and green tinged shells. They have a milder sweeter taste, but they are still plenty briny, as are all oysters that come from our corner of the world.

 

Notes on Safe Handling

Your oysters are alive, and they need to stay that way until you eat them. Keep them cold cold cold but not frozen. I usually put them in a colander with ice, and put a bowl under the colander to catch the water as the ice melts. Fresh water from melting ice can kill the oysters, so you have to give it a way to drain. I ensure maximum oyster survival by covering the whole thing with a wet paper towel. DO NOT put your oysters in a sealed plastic bag, the little fellas need to breathe. Here is a comprehensive guide to safe handling.

 

Shucking

Shucking can be intimidating for a novice, but with a little practice and a good shucking knife, you should be enjoying oysters on the half shell in no time. I am not an expert, but I put together this short little how to video last time Siren had oyster week. The oyster I am shucking IS one of the varieties that you are getting this week.

 

Mignonette!

I really don’t want you to mess with these oysters too much. I mean, there isn’t much better in this world than a super fresh oyster on the half shell with just the right amount of mignonette. So, to encourage raw slurping I will give you my super basic old standby mignonette. I like my mignonette simple.  I don’t add herbs or mess with fancy vinegar.  Don’t get me wrong, I never met a vinegar that I didn’t love, but when it comes to topping my oysters I prefer to use a good quality red wine vinegar.  Like I said, oysters are pretty perfect just the way they are.

1/2 cup good quality red wine vinegar

2 tbsp finely chopped shallots

1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper

A good pinch of salt

Combine all of the ingredients.  Serve chilled over oysters on the half shell.

 

Oysters from Tomales Bay Oyster Co.

This is great oyster weather. Woohoo! Grab a shucking knife and a couple of friends and head outdoors. Whether you intend to eat them raw, or grill them, these little guys from Tomales Bay Oyster Co. will not disappoint. I tried to get my hands on their incredibly tasty Golden Nugget oysters, but alas, it was not to be. Your share will be half smalls and half extra smalls. I like my oysters tiny, so I tend to lean towards the extra smalls even for grilling. Why all of this grill talk when I have made it clear that oysters are best when they haven’t been messed with? Because I am growing a tiny fishmonger and I am not allowed to eat raw oysters. No alcohol? Okay fine. No soft cheese? Wellll fine again. NO RAW OYSTERS?! Gah. Torture.

So, I did not get to try one of these little beauties out, but I did shuck a couple and they look gorgeous. I also had some fish plant friends give them a try. They got high marks.

You can find care instructions and my mignonette recipe here.

 

Storing your new oyster friends

Your oysters will come to you in a nifty mesh bag.  They will probably be a little dirty, but we will address that later on.  The oysters are alive and you need to keep them that way if you would like to eat them.

The best way to do that is to keep them in your refrigerator covered with a damp paper towel.  They need to breathe, but they hate air.  Don’t put them in an airtight container.  They are little bivalve divas.  Putting them on ice is great, but you want to make sure that melting ice has a place to drain.  Melting fresh water can kill an oyster.  They like temperatures between 35 and 40F, so make sure refrigerator is running cold but NOT near freezing.

When you are ready to eat, give the oysters a quick rinse to remove any sea grit.  You don’t want any sand in your teeth.  If an oyster is open and will not close, DON’T EAT IT.  It’s dead and will make you sick.  If you find an open oyster, tap it gently on the table and wait.  If it is still open it’s dead.  If it closes, shuck away.  mmmmm

Know your source: Oysters from Cove Mussel Co.

All photos by James Collier of Foie Gras & Flannel http://foiegrasandflannel.com/

 

We are lucky this week to have beautiful little oysters from Cove Mussel Co. in Marshall, CA.  We can all feel great about eating oysters.  Oyster farming has little to no impact on the environment, in fact, oysters actually clean the water they are farmed in.

Back at week 1, I promised the story of how I met owner/farmer Scott Zahl and his girlfriend Patti Collins.  I was watching some friends of mine play during Western Weekend in Point Reyes Station at the Old Western Saloon.  The whole town was pretty happy and I felt like I was a few drinks behind.  I set up at the bar to fix this problem, and met the nicest lady.  That nice lady was Patti Collins, and after talking for awhile she mentioned that her boyfriend is an oyster farmer, his oysters are THE BEST, and he had some in his truck if I would like to try them.  I always say yes to food, especially oysters.  So, we all headed out to Scott’s truck and MAN were they some great oysters.  When I made it back to the bar I told my friends that I had just stumbled upon some of the best oysters I had ever had.  There couldn’t have been a better time for me to find Cove Mussel Co.  I was in frantic planning mode for the launch of Siren SeaSA and I was terrified that finfish alone would not get me through six weeks of deliveries.  I wanted to offer subscribers shellfish, but I wanted to avoid the big, already known suppliers.  I knew that I had found a perfect fit the second I tried that oyster.

A month and a couple of phone calls later, I was headed out to visit Scott and Patti with my awesome photographer buddy James Collier and his equally awesome wife Kim.  We waded out to the boat and took a short ride out to the barges and oyster beds.

The oysters are grown in mesh baskets hung inside frames.  They take about a year and a half to grow to harvest size.

The baskets are removed and the oysters sorted and bagged, with occasional help from some special equipment.  Yep, that’s me with a giant club used to loosen oysters.  I felt powerful.

The day that we were there, Patti was bagging the oysters and mussels.

Bagged oysters are sent out with a tag identifying exactly where and when they were harvested.

We were lucky enough to get to shuck and eat some oysters out on the barge.  They were amazing.  The sun was shining, and it was one of those moments where you realize that you are doing something right to end up where you are.


I know that you are all going to love eating these oysters.  I am including a really basic mignonette recipe below. Enjoy!

 

Mignonette

I like my mignonette simple.  I don’t add herbs or mess with fancy vinegar.  Don’t get me wrong, I never met a vinegar that I didn’t love, but when it comes to topping my oysters I prefer to use a good quality red wine vinegar.  Like I said, oysters are pretty perfect just the way they are.

1/2 cup good quality red wine vinegar

2 tbsp finely chopped shallots

1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper

A good pinch of salt

Combine all of the ingredients.  Serve chilled over oysters on the half shell.

 

Oyster Week

Photo by James Collier of Foie Gras & Flannel http://foiegrasandflannel.com/

My oh my do I love oysters.  I really do.  I bring them to every gathering and that’s why I’m so popular.  So, I expect that all of you will love me even more after you get three dozen little beauties from Cove Mussel Co.  Remember them?  They gave us those gorgeous mussels from week 1.

Photo by James Collier of Foie Gras & Flannel http://foiegrasandflannel.com/

I like my oysters straight out of the shell, occasionally with some mignonette.  Grilling is fine, but really, they are pretty perfect just the way they are.  In that spirit, there will be no big recipe this week.  I will share my basic mignonette as well as some fun oyster stories tomorrow.  For now, here is a video of me shucking some oysters.  Mama Larsen manned the camera and there may have been some giggling.  There’s usually giggling.

How to SHUCK

Photo by James Collier of Foie Gras & Flannel http://foiegrasandflannel.com/