I’ve become a little obsessed with roasted oysters. Like tasting raw ones, there’s an art to cooking them. When it comes to technique, every oyster chef has their way of doing things. Here’s one that I would not have thought to try, but could it possibly be an oyster game changer?

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Loftin Oysters are little ceramic oyster shell-shaped stoneware that you use to bake/roast/broil/grill/smoke oysters without having to deal with real oyster shells… making my photo above kind of inaccurate (but so meta). One sack contains a dozen oyster dishes (retail $65) and none are shaped the same. The shells are made of organic clay compounds that are designed specifically to withstand high oven temperatures and direct flame. They can be cleaned with mild detergent and are dishwasher friendly.

The idea behind the cookware came from the Loftins, a family of New Orleans-native seafood lovers who wanted a better way to enjoy cooked oysters. During the fall of 2011, Kyle Loftin and his wife, Ali, brainstormed a way to make chargrilled oysters at home after a busy work day, without having to deal with the time-consuming process of shucking and clean up. After experimenting for months with materials and design, Kyle and his brother Mike finally identified the ideal clay mixture that could withstand the heating and cooling exposure during daily use. Then in 2013, they began production in a small home-based workshop and started taking orders at the end of the year.

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All you need to enjoy cooked oysters on the half shell now is a container of shucked oyster meat.

But here’s the catch: a pint of shucked oyster meat isn’t that easy to come by in New York City, a bivalve-obsessed market that’s more infatuated with dollar oyster happy hours and signature oyster creations than DIY oysters at home (although that could be changing…). Shucked meats aren’t nearly as popular in the Northeast as they are down south, where Loftin and many of their clients are based.

If I were to have oysters at home — and I often do — I buy unopened oysters nearly 100% of the time. I’ve only purchased shucked meats once during the holidays to make oyster stew (mmm yum!). So when Loftin Oysters sent over one of their charming burlap sacks of oyster stoneware for me to try, I couldn’t help but wonder: if my oysters came with shells anyway, what’s the point of having these?

Curious as always, I decided to just try them out and determine if there were any hidden advantages in taking the “scenic route” aka shucking oysters and then cooking them with the Loftin Shells.

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Several dozen Potomac Whitecaps arrived by courier one afternoon from Marshall and Garrett Taylor of Potomac River Oyster Company. These mighty Virginicas from Lottsburg, VA were just as formidable to shuck other many of the other Chesapeake oysters that have come my way. Every oyster measured over 3-3.5 inches and had a substantial heft to them. They have deep cups and smooth, flat tops. Gargantuan teardrop shapes. Extremely fresh. I scrubbed the bunch clean with a vegetable brush and uncovered several tiny wriggly worms on the outside, which is a sign of recently harvested product. But despite my best efforts, most of the hinges and tops still crumbled and cracked in half when I shucked them.

The flavor of the Potomac Whitecap tasted true to its Chesapeake origin, but also unique. They were mild and clean, with little salinity in the liquor. Upon chewing, I experienced the most surprising white mushroom flavor. The meaty, tender texture also reminded me of sauteed mushrooms. White button mushrooms! Was the name playing a trick on me? Or were they named for having such a quality? Regardless, I’m nicknaming them the underwater mushrooms of the Potomac. The finish was light and buttery.

I slurped several raw and saved the rest for the recipe.

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To test out the stoneware out, I decided to make Broiled Oysters with Sriracha-Lime Butter. I chose this recipe because A) it looked super simple and easy to make, yet totally delicious and B) imagined that broiling was the harshest cooking condition my dinky apartment oven could muster up.

Broiled Oysters with Sriracha-Lime Butter using Loftin Oysters

Ingredients

2 dozen pre-shucked oysters
12 Loftin Oyster shells
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
2 teaspoons shallots, minced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cilantro, minced (optional if you’re not a cilantro fan like me)

Instructions

1. Mix the soft butter with the shallots, sriracha, lime, salt, and cilantro. Let it solidify a bit in the fridge. It doesn’t have to be completely solid, but it shouldn’t be a liquid.

2. Meanwhile, heat up your broiler until its very hot.

3. Place the shells on a broiler-friendly baking sheet or tray for easy carrying and then place one shucked oyster meat into each Loftin Oyster shell. (Bonus tip: I pre-heated my tray of Loftin Oyster shells in the broiler for a few minutes before placing the meat on to give the bottoms a little more cooking time.)

4. Drop a dollop of the Sriracha-lime butter onto each oyster.

5. Broil for 3-4 minutes. The butter should a little bubbly.

6. Remove out of the broiler and let cool for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Be careful handling the shells as they will still be very hot. Repeat process with the remaining oysters.

7. Enjoy!

On a related note: It is possible to grill or roast oysters without having to open the shells at all. They oysters will naturally open up on their own. But then there’s the inevitable hassle of having to insert your accoutrements mid-roast, which isn’t all that elegant or convenient. I don’t think that the flavors blend as well that way either.

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The final result was delicious! The heat in the Sriracha blended nicely with the citrusy lime and butteriness of the oyster. We gobbled them down in a matter of minutes. Making the second batch was a cinch as well. I would’ve probably used a little less butter if I had to do it over again. Once my experiment was done, I sat down to think about what I liked and disliked about it all.

What I Liked:

  • They provided a reusable, wobble-free base for each oyster that would normally require rock salt or aluminum foil to help stabilize.
  • Many of the natural shells were unsuitable to use for this recipe since they were broken at the hinge. Loftin Oysters provided a helpful solution to salvage those meats.
  • I could pre-heat them to give oysters that extra sizzle on the bottom!
  • The shells could contain lots of ingredients if desired. Some natural shell shapes wouldn’t have been able to accommodate.
  • The packaging of this product is really nice. The burlap bag is super cute and the way the shells sound when you shuffle them around just begs you to take them out and use them.

What I Disliked:

  • Handling the shells when hot was tricky. My tongs couldn’t grab the edge right so a few of them tipped over in transit.
  • The bulkiness in size and weight. They’re quite a bit heavier than real shells, which made transferring them to and from the oven a little more challenging. I’ve been working out though (*flexes*), so I managed okay. Although I can’t imagine someone like my mom having an easy time with it.
  • Having one set meant that I could only cook and serve a dozen at a time, which isn’t ideal when entertaining guests.
  • The appearance of these shells weren’t as detailed and refined as the ones shown on the website. I think they could be improved upon with a slightly thinner, more shapely edge.

Overall, I enjoyed using the Loftin Oyster Stoneware. It’s simply a must for anyone with easy access to shucked oyster meats, as it makes oysters a heck of a lot more accessible for home consumption. I think think the two biggest improvements that could be made are in the design of the shells (more refinement on the bottom side, thinner edges, more oyster-like appearance) and providing a solution to handling them. Perhaps a custom tong or holder?

For me, I think it offers a nice backup setup when I’m cooking oysters in the half shell. I really couldn’t find a way to justify the double duty of shucking oysters and then cooking them in another shell, unless if I had to. For outside grilling, I have my handy BBQ Oyster Grill to keep my oysters stable and secure. I don’t think Loftin Oysters will ever replace the wonderful (albeit cumbersome) experience of roasting/grilling/cooking oysters in real oyster shells. However, I DO think that they just opened up a whole new playground for shucked oyster meats. And that, I think, could potentially be an oyster game changer around the country — if positioned the right way.

 

Roast Oyster Recipes

Here’s also a few other cooked oyster recipes that I contemplated trying.

Oyster Gratin (with a story about the SA Knysna Oyster Festival!)

Oysters with Irish Soda Bread and Guinness Stout

Broiled Oysters

Many, many other recipes on Loftin Oysters’ Pinterest page!

Also, I had some really nice roasted “farm style” oysters at Grand Central Oyster Bar the other day… need to get that recipe as well!

 

Where to Buy Shucked Oyster Meats

East Coast Oysters - Chesapeake Gold Shucked Oysters from I Love Blue Sea

West Coast Oysters – Taylor Shucked Oysters from I Love Blue Sea

Just a few days after returning from my whirlwind Asia oyster tour (which I promise to write about soon!), I headed up to Boston for the 33rd Annual Seafood Expo North America.

Seafood Expo North America is the latest seafood trade event in North America. The three-day event, which attracts more than 19,000 visitors annually, connects various buyers and suppliers from over 100 countries who sell fresh, frozen and packaged seafood products. Everything and anything related to seafood were present and discussed — from sustainability to innovative packaging to new products. As for me, I wasn’t selling or buying. I roamed the long exhibition halls in search of new oyster stories. Perhaps a peek into the future of the bivalve. It was a lot of networking, learning and, of course, slurping. Here are my top eight oyster-related takeaways from the event.

#1 Pangea Shellfish’s Oysterpalooza

Pangea Shellfish‘s oyster and shellfish exhibit was inarguably the most impressive oyster display at the expo. The photo below doesn’t even do it justice. There was a whole other table filled with many other varieties to the left! Talk about feeling like a kid in a candy store. For me, their standout was their signature Standish Shore oyster. It’s a sublimely briny and sweet nugget of goodness from Duxbury Bay.

   

#2 Shucker Paddy’s Oyster Master Class Demonstration

One of the most knowledgeable and charismatic oyster gurus out there, 2-time World Champion Oyster Shucker and Restaurateur Patrick McMurray gave a terrific talk and demonstration on day 2 of the show. He premiered his brand new shucking knife “ShuckerPaddy,” which he designed to have an ergonomic pistol grip (putting his degree in Kinesiology to work). Update: check out this great wrap-up video with Patrick, where he goes over some of the oyster info & demo’s covered during the class.

   

#3 Blue Island Oyster Company’s Wild Fire Islands and Chocolate Bays

Here’s another impressive oyster exhibit from Blue Island Oyster Company, based out in Long Island. Unlike Pangea, the BI team were madly shucking oysters for all. I was pleasantly surprised by the Wild Fire Island oyster (shown below) in both taste and appearance. The outside shell displays a wild and coral-like layering effect, while the inside shell possesses a psychedelic marbling of colors. They’re a rarity on the market because they’re only harvested a few months out of the year. Lucky me!

On a related note, I became obsessed with another delicious product on their table. Chocolate oysters shaped like Naked Cowboys and seasoned with their own locally-produced sea salt. The mini oyster bag and “Chocolate Bay” bag tag were a great finishing touch! Chocolates and oysters… they know what hungry girls want!

    

#4 Richard Rush’s Shucking Knife Collection

Oyster aficionado Richard Rush put his wonderful oyster shucking knife collection out on display during the 8th Annual Oyster Shucking Competition. The set were kept in a lovely brown leather vintage suitcase engraved with his initials “R.R.” in gold foil. I got a sneak peek into the case and below is also a shot of the moment when Patrick McMurray presenting Richard with a “shucking puck.” (That’s how they do it in Canada…) Alongside the knife collection, Richard had also brought a nice case of oyster shells. I couldn’t stick around for an explanation, but I believe that different knives have been designed to shuck different shaped oysters. If you’re curious to learn more, check out Richard’s website all about shucking oysters!

#5 International Oyster Discoveries

American oyster growers weren’t the only ones present at the Expo. In fact, there were quite a few number of international oyster growers who were showcasing their products. I happened to come across oysters from Morocco (shown below, Mr. Mohamed Saidi of Huitres Saidi) and Mexico on the conference floor.

The Moroccan gigas oyster tasted crisp and briny. The liquor definitely had a flavor unlike anything that I’ve had before. There were no lingering flavors on the palate, possessed very subtle cucumber notes, and a pleasantly plump texture. Grown out using rack and bag, the Moroccan oyster meat reminded me of the beautiful black-mantled Moyasta oysters from Ireland.

The Kumiai oyster grown by Inter Mareal out of Baja, Mexico took me back to memories of a spring break to Ensenada many, many years ago. Cultured using the rack and bag method in the pristine waters of the Guerrero Negro Lagoon, these oysters possessed a vibrant, creamy flavor. A good balance between oceanic brine and earthy beachiness. The shells were also a real beauty. I think that they would go perfectly with a squeeze of lime and a Corona!

    

#6 Making New Oyster Friends at Row34

Networking is a big part of the expo and I couldn’t have been happier to doing just that over free beer and shucks at Row34.

Most memorable: Mike McGee from Ballard Fish & Oyster. Most badass: CJ Husk from Island Creek Oysters. (see below, he’s shucking two oysters at once… and um, is totally showing up Chris Sherman from ICO). Most serendipitous meetup via social networking: Mark Urwin and Jeremy Hill from 46° South Fish Co. Bring both of your passports out next time guys!

Last but not least, best oyster “saying” from Paul Packer from Northeast Seafood Products. “Eating oysters help put lead in your pencil… which is good as long as you have somebody to write to.” I followed with, “Otherwise you’d be just scribbling.” Heh.

   

#7 Talking Shop: Oyster Branding and Processes

As a brand strategist, I am interested in all things related to marketing, consumer behavior, and product positioning. The expo provided fertile ground to strike up conversations about oyster branding and marketing tactics. Having professional experience doing marketing communications for a variety of categories (luxury cars, tech, big oil, financial services, fast food, sports, pharma, etc), I found the seafood industry to be quite different. It’s a mixed bag of old school and new school, but one thing is clear: a handful of energetic, ambitious storytellers are out there looking to change the game.

I got a chance to chat with Tim Devine from Barren Island Oyster, Steve Vilnit from Maryland Seafood, Tal Petty from Hollywood Oyster Co., Tom Gallivan from Shooting Point Oysters, Wec Terry from H.M. Terry, The Feigenbaums from Little Shemogue Oyster Co., and many others about how they tell their unique stories.

   

#8 Undertaking Gulf Giants

Last but not least, I was invited to try some freshly shucked Gulf oysters from Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana by the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition. The Gulf is perhaps the only oystering region left in North America (and maybe around the world) that is still dominated by wild harvest. These oysters have been the backbone to the American oyster industry for decades and I am curious to see how they evolve to meet the new expectations of today’s oyster consumers. Despite what some of my fellow “northerners” say about Gulf oysters, I kept an open mind as I slurped. These warm water giants were meaty and mild for the most part. Some possessed more salinity than others and I was told that it varies from season to season. I was most surprised by the soft, subtle sweetness of the meat. When done right, these oysters are truly delicious!

   

All in all, the Seafood Expo North America provided a terrific platform for members of the international seafood community to mingle, cross-pollinate ideas, and do business. As for me, I hope to explore many of these story leads even further this year — and bring you exclusive in-depth coverage of the world’s best oyster destinations.

If you’d like to discuss a potential partnership or project, you can reach me at julie [at] inahalfshell.com!

 

The first oyster trip of the year: Boston. This town has one heck of an oyster scene! But with just six hours to spare, I managed to only visit the top four on my list. Here are the findings from my short, yet fruitful trip.

Row 34 Bar

12:30PM at Row34

After spending a relaxing weekend catching up with old college buddies, it was time to switch gears. Kahren Dowcett from Living Arts Institute and I drove down to Row34 (a new restaurant in Fort Point from the Island Creek crew) for a light oyster lunch. It was drizzly and cold, but we fortunately found street parking a block away.

Despite being self-described as a “workingman’s oyster bar,” Row34 was unexpectedly bright and polished. I guess I had imagined a smaller, darker oyster saloon instead of an open, industrial loft fit for a tech startup. But playing true to the no-nonsense descriptor, the usual sea-themed frivolities were no where to be seen. Only essential information were on display. Nothing more, nothing less. I liked that.

Darren served us at the bar, just to the right of the mountainous display of oysters over crushed ice. The restaurant was rather mellow today for lunch. Apparently ICO had their holiday party here last night. There were no traces of debauchery anywhere, but I suspect a few were probably recovering from festivities. The simple “R34″ raw bar ordering card listed a selection of five local oysters, all harvested from Massachusetts. Three were brand new to me. All of the oysters were priced between $2-3 per piece, so we sampled the lot: Row34 from Duxbury, Island Creeks from Duxbury, Howlands Landing from Duxbury, Rocky Nook from Kingston, and Spring Creek from Barnstable.

When our plate of 20 arrived, they glistened. Superbly fresh, all very meaty, immaculately shucked. Accoutrements included cocktail sauce with a side of horseradish (passed), classic mignonette (passed), and a special spicy mignonette (tried once, didn’t quite do it for me.)

The Row 34 Oyster Experiment: Row 34 got their name from their location. They’re grown on the 34th row of the Island Creek Oyster Farm plot, right next to its other acreages of brothers and sisters. However, unlike standard ICO’s that mature on the Duxbury Bay floor, Row 34 oysters are grown out in floating cages. Penthouse suites. They’re occasionally tumbled and tousled, but generally live a pampered life. Did this treatment impact its taste or texture? According to Boston Magazine, it certainly did.

Having tried both Row34′s and regular Island Creek’s consecutively, I thought I detected subtle differences. The liquor from the Row 34′s tasted a bit cleaner, yet brinier. Whereas the Island Creek’s possessed a depth that I often find in bottom-cultured oysters. But then again, I’m not positive whether or not it was an apples-to-apples comparison. One could have been pulled from the water at a different time, a different age.

I can’t wait to talk about the other oysters that I had, but I’m going to save it for another post where I plan to round up my full list of Boston oyster discoveries. I will say that I enjoyed the Duxbury trio flight. It was fascinating to compare and contrast oysters that were all grown in one microregion. We also had a few other bites before we had to go, including the Spicy Lobster Taco’s (great lobster and “salsa,” but not very spicy), and a delicious plate of lime-sprinkled salmon crudo (compliments of the chef). Overall, I had a terrific first experience at Row34. The service was wonderful, timing was perfect, oysters were well shucked, plated, and clearly explained. I’m definitely returning for another round and hope to also check out the original Island Creek Oyster Bar as well.

Row 34

2:00PM at B&G Oysters

The next stop was B&G Oysters in the South End. We had amazing parking karma again. A spot opened up right in front of the restaurant. (Seriously, is this normal?) We entered through the back door, past the iron gate with the charming “Bivalves” sign. The rain had stopped and everything seemed to feel right.

Before entering the main restaurant, I caught a glimpse of the outdoor seating area. The small courtyard was flanked on one side by a wall of ivy. I imagined myself having a lazy and luxurious summer night out there with a plate of bivalves and a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc. The inside of B&G is quite charming. The open kitchen was at the center of everything. There were no barriers between the customer and the prep counters. It felt like being in the front row of Kitchen Stadium in Iron Chef, except without the camera crew, competitive heat or annoying voice timer.

When 2:30PM rolled around, we were the only patrons left in the restaurant. Nothing was going on except carrot prep and clean up. Our waiter walked over to take our order. I selected half a dozen oysters from a menu that featured 10 East Coast varieties. There were three from Massachusetts — two of which I hadn’t tried before. Oysters were priced between $2.50 to $4.10 per piece ($4.10 for the Basket Island, Maine). Chilmark from Martha’s Vineyard and Nasketucket from Nasketucket Bay were my two MA choices. I also decided to retry the Umami from Rhode Island just for the hell of it. I also ordered the Lobster Veloute, which looked absolutely divine.

Annnnd that’s all that I’m going to report for now.

Wait, what? Why? To be fully transparent, my experience wasn’t great. Several things were off. But it felt surprisingly off — like someone was accidentally dozing, instead of obstinately bombing. Because I had heard so many good things from so many people about B&G, I felt like my situation was out of the norm. Anyway, before jumping to any conclusions, I really want to give B&G another shot. So this report is TO BE CONTINUED…. duhn duhn DUHN. Onwards.

Neptune  Neptune

3:30PM at Neptune Oyster

Neptune Oyster in the historic North End is notorious for its ridiculously long wait times — yes, it’s that tiny and has a reputation of being that awesome — so I strategically scheduled this visit during the least busy time of day that I could think of. My plan worked. The narrow New York City-sized oyster boutique accommodated us four gals quite easily at the back of the bar. Connie Lu from Pangea Shellfish and my college buddy Kacy came out to meet us. Although if it were just me, I would’ve chosen to sit at the front of the restaurant, facing the giant window looking out onto the hypothetical line of envious patrons-in-waiting.

Neptune featured 12 oysters on their menu, with 10 from the East Coast and two from the West Coast, priced between $2.60 to $3.10 per piece ($3.10 for the Kusshi from British Columbia). As a contrast to Row 34 and B&G, the raw menu/ordering sheet at Neptune felt quite exhaustive. Each variety came with a description that summarized the oyster’s general size, level of salinity, notable flavors, and finish. Somebody likes spreadsheets! I ordered Moon Shoals from Barnstable, Basket Island from Casco Bay, and Bee’s River from Eastham.

Even though I wasn’t all that hungry, I had to try the Neptunes on Piggyback: a composition of crispy fried oysters between a base layer of sweet Berkshire pork and top layer of greens with a golden raisin confiture and pistachio aioli. The small plate was both hearty and light at the same time. Quite the delight. The service was a little inconsistent throughout the visit. We were initially well looked after when the place was calm, but attention dwindled near the end when the entire restaurant filled up (as anticipated). I suppose that’s a normal occurrence, so be prepared to wave the waiters down instead of waiting for them to come to you. I’d love to return sometime either on my own or on a date.

Mare

5:00PM at Mare Oyster Bar

Kacy and I ventured on to the last oyster bar. Mare was about three blocks away from Neptune and used a very similar raw bar ordering card. The ambiance was quite different from all the rest. Floor to ceiling windows hugged half of the corner bistro, which I’m sure brought in amazing light during the day. Fellow oyster enthusiast and creator of the Oyster Century Club Jacqueline Church also came out to meet us for my last round of slurps. At this point, I was a little bit, tiny bit, teensy bit oystered out. My wallet couldn’t have agreed with me more. However, with 15 oyster varieties on Mare’s menu, they boasted the largest selection out of the four establishments on my tour. They carried all East Coast varieties and many were brand new to me. My stomach rallied.

I scanned the list for viable options. We ordered a platter of Stony Islands from Orleans, First Encounters from Eastham, and Ichabods from Plymouth.

First Encounter vs First Light: Although First Encounter Oysters, presumably grown near the First Encounter Marsh at Bee’s River in Eastham aren’t at all the same as the First Light Oysters grown by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Popponesset Bay, Mare kind of confused me by putting up a different label up than what was listed on the menu. From my understanding, they’ve served First Lights before, so either the sign was wrong or the menu was wrong. I wish I had a better comparison of the Bee’s Rivers from Neptune and these First Encounters.

I couple drinks and many laughs later, we noticed the time. I had to run soon to catch my ride back to New York City. I thought it wise to order something for the road. The Lobster Roll that boasted meat from a 2.5lb lobster for $25 looked sufficiently extravagant for a “on the go” meal. Mare offered both hot and cold preparation. I opted for the cold — Maine style. It was the Best. Decision. Ever. A few hours into my journey home, I decided it was time for a 5th meal. That lobster roll was phenomenal. The buttered bun was stuffed to the brim with lusciously sweet meat and garnished with tangy pickled onion slivers. If not for the great oysters, I would be happy to return to Mare for this puppy.

 

Tips for Your Own Boston Oyster Bar Crawl

- Start with a light oyster lunch. Make sure to fill your stomach with a little something besides oysters, but remember to pace yourself. Don’t fill up. Drink lots of water. Take a small break after eating to explore the city, and return to location #2 around 3PM.

- Take photos of all the menus (or ask to keep them, if possible) and make note of which oysters you try. Order them by harvest location. If you happen to find oysters from the same microregion (i.e., Wellfleet, Eastham, Duxbury), you’ll be able to compare those flavors more easily.

- Sit at the oyster bar wherever possible. Engage the staff, talk to them about the oysters. They should be plenty knowledgeable about their offerings and willing to help (as long as it’s not insanely busy where you can’t expect anyone to linger for long). If they don’t seem informed or try to hunt down the information for you, think twice about returning.

- 3PM on a weekday (particularly Monday) is going to be your best bet of getting a seat at Neptune without waiting.

- Take photos of your plate of oysters before you slurp them. They’ll usually come in order of how they’re listed on the menu. Sometimes when you can’t recall a name, you’ll at least remember its position on the platter.

 

What’s Next? 

I’ll be posting another entry about the new oyster discoveries that I had along the way. I’m also coming back for more in mid-March (and attending the Boston Seafood Expo).

Virgola in Italian means comma, or a pause, which is literally what this cozy oyster and wine bar feels like. The sultry, secluded, six-foot-wide converted alleyway serves as the perfect sanctuary for the first oyster interlude of the year.

Oysters & Bubbly at Virgola   Oysters & Bubbly at Virgola
Oysters & Bubbly at Virgola   Oysters & Bubbly at Virgola

It’s noon on New Year’s Day and I’m out on my first order of business of the year: a meeting with Joseph Marazzo, owner of Virgola, at his charming oyster & wine den in the West Village. It’s located at 28 Greenwich Avenue, but I think an address incorporating “½” would feel more appropriate.

Read More

Happy Holidays! As 2013 comes to a close, I thought it would be fun to look back and revisit some of my favorite oyster moments of this year. These were my top 10 most memorable slurps:

Race Rock Oysters from Peconic Bay, NY

#10 Race Rock Oysters from Peconic Bay, NY at Cull & Pistol

Although I’ve heard of this phenomenon, it was the first time that I had ever encountered a greenish-blueish-gilled oyster. These Race Rocks from the Peconic Bay, Long Island were quite a novelty. The color comes from the algae they eat (sort of like how Flamingo’s turn pink when they eat pink shrimp). Flavor-wise, it tasted like Green Eggs and Ham. Just kidding. They were briny, buttery, and had a hint of minerality. Thanks Chef Dave Seigal for introducing me to them!

 

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#9 Pleasure House Oysters from Lynnhaven River, VA

Oysters are a feast of the eyes as well as the tastebuds. If this isn’t oyster porn, I don’t know what is. Also rather appropriate for an oyster with such a scandalous-sounding name (although I assure you that the association is quite PG). These plump gems were fantastic. Ultra fresh, sweet and salty. I couldn’t get enough of them and neither could my coworkers. Pleasure House Oysters only harvests 1200 a week, so many thanks to grower/co-owner Chris Ludford for sending me a batch. Read the entry.

 

4 Species of Oysters at Shuck Easy

#8 Four species oyster tasting at New York Oyster Week

In my many years of oyster blogging, I’ve only come across the complete tasting of the 5 species of North America once. Kevin Joseph of New York Oyster Week almost managed to collect them all for his premiere Shuck Easy event. There was the o. edulis (European Flat/Belon), c. gigas (Pacific), c. virginica (Eastern Native) and c. sikamea (Kumamoto). The only one missing was the West Coast native: o. lurida (Olympia). They’re usually pretty hard to get on the East Coast though, so no biggie. While almost everyone else went for the Kumo’s, I had a field day with the Damariscotta Belons. They are probably the most underrated oyster out there.

 

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#7 Kusshi from British Columbia with Crème fraîche & caviar at Oyster Nosh

Kusshi’s are already little nuggets of pure happiness. The name is so cute (it means “precious” in Japanese) and the shape kind of reminds you of a truffle. So at that rate, why not top it off with some ridiculous decadence? I learned this move from a restaurant up in Maine a few years ago, although they also doused theirs in vodka. Needless to say, these were amazing and everyone’s favorite. I hope I’ll be invited back to Niyati’s 2nd Annual Oyster Nosh next year ;) Read the entry.

 

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#6 Stellar Bays from British Columbia at my engagement party

So speaking of the Kusshi, Stellar Bays are their bivalve 1-up. They are basically larger Kusshi’s (same deep cup), and are totally out of this world. Plump, sweet, crisp and clean… They were the perfect treat at our casual backyard engagement party. Friends still talk about them to this day! Many thanks to W&T Seafood for the hook up. Read the entry.

 

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#5 New Jersey oysters at Sustainable Seafood Week NYC

At the Oysters, Clams & Cocktails Benefit during Sustainable Seafood Week NYC, I got to try four new varieties of New Jersey oysters. Who knew Jersey had such amazing oysters?? It’s not the first thing you think about, right? Well I was certainly blown away by the briny Mantoloking oyster from Forty North Oyster Farm, as well as the Graveling Point oyster from Maxwell Shellfish. Read the entry.

 

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#4 New Zealand Oyster Tasting at Waterbar in San Francisco, CA

It’s not everyday you find a New Zealand oyster on an American menu, let alone three varieties. Before heading to Napa, we got a chance to check out Waterbar along the Embarcadero in SF. They had a special three New Zealand oyster tasting: Coromandel, Clevedon Coast, and Kaipara (brand new to me). Some of my favorite oysters are from Tasmania and these toothsome Kiwi bivalves could be a close second. Read the entry.

 

#3 Maine Oyster Tasting at Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, ME

I’m kind of obsessed with Maine oysters… and Maine in general for that matter (getting married there in May!) So when we had the chance to visit Eventide, I was like a kid going to Disneyland. Then I got even more pumped about being able to explore five different Maine oysters in one go (Eventide had at least 7 or 8 varieties on the menu). We arrived at the oyster bar in the nick of time — this place fills up insanely quick in the afternoon. The John’s Rivers and Pemaquids were some of the finest I’ve had on the East Coast. Happy sigh! Read the entry.

 

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#2 Hog Island Sweetwaters at the Hog Island Oyster Farm in Marshall, CA

My oyster journey more or less began at the Hog Island Oyster Bar in SF’s Ferry Building back in 2009 and this year, I’ve come full circle by shucking my own oysters at the Hog Island Oyster Farm. There’s something about these Sweetwaters that’s life changing. Having them to the view of Tomales Bay also seals the deal. I have a silly (but potentially not too ridiculous) theory: where there’s good cattle grazing, there are good oysters. Maybe the nutrient-high run-off makes the oysters extra sweet. But if you take that thought one moo further… well, don’t think about it. Anyway, I don’t know why more people haven’t done the merroir & terroir tour out of San Francisco. Sonoma and Napa are literally a little over an hour away. It’s the perfect food-centric road trip. That’s a free business idea for someone. Read the entry.

 

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#1 Kelly Galway Natives and Rock Oysters in Galway Bay, Ireland

The crème de la crème oyster experience of this year was my trip out to Ireland, where I had the amazing opportunity to visit several oyster farms on the West Coast of the country, as well as participate in the Galway International Oyster Festival.

There were so many fantastic moments that it’s hard to highlight them all. But if I really had to pinpoint one particular experience that topped it all, I’d have to say it was slurping live Pacific and European Native oysters right out of the water at the Kelly Galway Oyster Farm. We were in hunter green wellies, calf deep in a little crevice of Galway Bay, standing next to rows upon rows of oyster tressles. The sun was breaking through the clouds right around that time and it had cast a sparkly spotlight over bits and pieces of the bay. Ugh, I thought I was dreaming! It was a trip of a lifetime. Many thanks to Richard Donnelly for reaching out and setting these meetings up.

Read the entries: Part 1 (Merroir), Part 2 (Tasting), Part 3 (Journey). By the way, for anyone who loves to travel and eat oysters — consider Ireland. They grow some of the best in the world.

So that concludes the countdown! Here’s to 2014 and all the new oyster adventures that it brings. What were some of your favorite oyster moments of 2013? And what are you looking forward to for next year? Leave a comment and slurp some oysters.

  • OYSTER POWER!

    Hello! My name is Julie Qiu and I am an oyster enthusiast from New York City. Although I grew up in the midwest, I just can't get enough of these beautiful bivalves.

    In A Half Shell showcases my insatiable appetite and passion for oysters. Not only are they tasty, they're a healthy food source and play a key role in environmental sustainability.

    My hope is to make the oyster more enjoyable, desirable, and accessible for everyone—from beginners to fellow aficionados.

    I've had over 250 varieties of oysters from six continents and have eaten them on five continents, so if you ever need a tip on which oysters to try (and where), don't hesitate to ask! Just email me or tweet me.