Winning the Shell Game
Bring Back the East Coast Oyster
Oysters have long been considered a culinary delicacy, and consumed for millennia the world over. But it’s New England and the Chesapeake Bay that grow some of the very best oysters in the world.
The first prehistoric person to pry open an oyster shell and consume the contents was either responding to a triple-dog-dare or extremely hungry. Imagine their surprise at the briny, silken delicacy they found inside what appeared to be a flat grey rock. Chances are, he or she ate several more, shared with the clan, after which good old word-of-mouth advertising took over.
Some cultures consider oysters to be aphrodisiacs — possibly stemming from the burst of vitality derived from the vitamins and minerals they contain. These bivalve mollusks have an enviable nutritional profile — they are high in levels of zinc, vitamin B12 and Omega 3 fatty acids, and low in cholesterol and sodium. Oysters once grew in profusion along the eastern seaboard, from Canada to South America. However, disease, habitat loss, declining water quality and over-harvesting caused a steady decline in wild fishery harvest rates in the past half-century. Aquaculture efforts by groups such as the Oyster Recovery Partnership have been undertaken through cultivation to bring them back in force. Oysters are true friends of their environment, improving the quality of the water surrounding them by consuming phytoplankton. In fact, one oyster filters 30 to 50 gallons of water a day.
Crassostrea Virginica (Atlantic Coast oyster); Crassostrea Gigas (Japanese oyster grown along the Pacific coast of America); Ostrea Lurida (Olympia oyster indigenous to the Pacific Northwest); and Ostrea Edulis (flat European native, farmed on both Atlantic and Pacific coasts).
Malpeques - PEI
Cultivated in the clean, deep water of Malpeque Bay off Prince Edward Island in Canada. Their shape is teardrop, they grow to three inches, and their flavor profile is light and tender, with high brininess and a subtle sweetness.
Wellfleets - Wellfleet Harbor, Cape Cod
The fresh tidal waters of Wellfleet Harbor on Cape Cod produce these sought-after plump beauties, which have a clean, sharp taste. Wellfleets offer a good balance of creamy sweetness and brine.
Naked Cowboys® - Long Island Sound
These oysters are wild bottom-grown, hand-harvested by divers off of Long Island Sound. Up to four inches long, Naked Cowboys are plump and firm, briny, with a strong mineral accent. They are named for the Manhattan street performer who plays guitar in Times Square, wearing just his briefs and cowboy boots.
Blue Points - Blue Point, Long Island
The true hometown for these fan-shaped delicacies is Blue Point, Long Island. They became immensely popular here and abroad, and in the 19th century, the name was bastardized by many — to the dismay of connoisseurs. A genuine Blue Point has firm texture, high brininess and a sweet aftertaste. They are bottom cultured and reach up to four inches in length.
Chincoteagues - Chincoteague Island, Chesapeake Bay
This prized variety is indigenous to the Chesapeake Bay. Chincoteague Island is surrounded by both natural and man-made beds. The clean, salty ocean tidewater ensures the perfect environment for oyster growth. Chincoteagues grow up to three and a half inches, and possess a distinct brininess, with a sweet finish.
When to Eat Oysters
The old recommendation that you should only eat oysters during months that contain an “R” is a theory that holds water. These are the colder months of the year, when oysters are at peak flavor. In general, oysters grown in colder waters possess a sharper, brinier flavor, while oysters grown in warmer waters tend to be milder.