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 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.
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.