Oysters: Pearls of the south, taste of the sea
LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 40. Follow us as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms.
There’s an old fisherman’s adage that you should not consume shellfish during months that don’t contain an “R.” This is primarily because during warmer months Diploid oysters spawn, meaning they reduce in size and become watery and unpalatable. However, Triploid oysters—which can be harvested quicker—actually remain sweet and are pleasant in taste and texture all year-long, and is your best choice in warmer months.
We’re tremendously delighted to have been introduced to cousins Travis and Ryan Croxton at Rappahannock River Oysters, in Topping, Virginia. They believe in the concept of merrior, which means “tasting the sea,” and it shows in their oysters. We’ve been lucky to partner with them for some of our beer dinners, and right now we are featuring their BarCat oysters on our menu, in our oyster pan stew and wintry salad.
Our Wintry Salad: Reminiscent of our fried oysters caesar salad, this too features Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in the dressing and atop the salad, and croutons made from Ciabatta bread from Orlando Bakery, in Cleveland, OH.
Our Oyster Pan Stew: Barcat oysters cooked in a country ham cream sauce with housemade bacon and pickled leeks, served over whipped sweet potatoes, and topped with chives
Oyster Pan Stew
- 1 tbsp Canola oil
- 6 oz oysters
- 1 oz slab bacon, rendered
- 1 fl oz Pickled Leeks, see recipe
- 4 fl oz Country Ham Cream Sauce, see recipe
- 2 fl oz whole milk
- 1 tbsp chives, chopped
- ¾ cup Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes, see recipe
Heat oil in a sauté pan until hot and add oysters, bacon and leeks.Sauté until done. Add cream sauce and milk to pan and heat through. Place whipped sweet potatoes in a bowl and top with oyster stew. Garnish with chopped chives. Makes 1 portion
- 2 ½ pounds leeks, cut in ½ moons on bias
- ¼ cup sea salt
- 3 quarts water
Place cut leeks in a hard plastic container. Dissolve salt in water and bring to a boil. Pour boiling water over leeks and weigh down the leeks with plates to keep them under the salt water. Allow to sit at room temperature for five days; then refrigerate. Discard any leeks that float to the top. Makes 2 ½ pounds
Country Ham Cream Sauce
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ pound country ham cut into small pieces
- ¼ cup yellow onions, diced
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 ¼ cups heavy cream
- ½ tsp fresh ground pepper
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
Heat oil in stock pot; then add onions to the stock pot and sauté until tender. When onions are tender, add country ham to stock pot and sauté until hot throughout. Do not overcook. Add butter to melt, and then add cream and pepper. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Cook 8-10 minutes. Dissolve cornstarch in a little water; add only enough to slightly thicken. Remove from heat. Makes – 3 cups
Recipe: Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes – washed, roasted and peeled
- 1 stick butter
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 2 tsp sorghum molasses
- salt to taste
Sweet potatoes should be weighed after being roasted and peeled. Lay out potatoes on a sheet pan in a single layer and heat through in a 350 degree oven. When heated through, combine all ingredients in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or mash with potato masher by hand until well combined and smooth. Makes 4 portions
Not only does Rappahannock farm their own oysters, but the 100-year-old family-owned, sustainable company is committed to protecting and celebrating the Chesapeake Bay and its native shellfish, as well as their own family history. They also control the salinity in their oysters by growing them further up the river for less salinity, and closer to the Chesapeake to achieve a greater brininess. This ensures a greater consistency and higher quality in the oysters, instead of having unpredictable conditions that make for an uneven dining experience. One of the things we most admire about these guys is that they’re concerned with positively affecting their environment and because of that they divert proceeds from their oyster sales to restore the watershed that feeds the Chesapeake Bay. In 2005, Food & Wine Magazine recognized their endeavors, with the “Tastemaker’s Award,” which is given each year to distinguishing young talents in the food and wine industry.
Rappahannock River Oysters will ship fresh oysters to your home, and you can order them online here.
Which Came First, the Stuffing or the Dressing?
The oyster dressing recipe below is actually the same as the lamb sausage spoonbread on our menu – just substituting the oysters for sausage. You can also make a vegetarian version at home too, substituting mushrooms for the meat.
Recipe: Oyster Dressing
- 3 tbsp Canola oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- ½ cup celery—small dice
- 2 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp chopped garlic
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 8×8 pan cornbread, crumbled
- 1 pint shucked oysters
- 1/8 cup minced parsley
- ½ tbsp dried sage
Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot on medium heat. Add onions and celery; cook until transluscent. Add salt, cayenne and garlic. Combine well and remove from heat. In a bowl, whisk eggs well. Add cream and combine thoroughly. Crumble cornbread into egg/cream mixture. Using rubber spatula, fold until all bread is moistened. Add oysters, parsley and sage. Fold together with spatula until well combined. Grease 9×13 pan. Turn mixture into pan, smoothing the top to a level thickness. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool before cutting. Serves 12.
Fun Facts About Oysters:
• Colder water oysters grow slower and tend to be smaller.
• Oysters are rich in protein, zinc, calcium, iron, selenium, and Vitamins A and B12.
• The most commonly harvested oysters are the Eastern American oyster (Crassostrea virginica), which are found in the Atlantic, between Canada and Argentina, and the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas), found between Japan and Washington state.
• Oysters change gender at least once during their lifespan.
• The female Pacific oyster can spawn up to 200 million eggs just in one season.
• Oysters have gills and a mantle which allow them to breathe. They also have hearts, stomachs, kidneys and intestines!
• Oysters are considered an aphrodisiac, especially during the spring (according to scientists).They contain rare amino acids that promote sexual hormones. Casanova was said to have consumed fifty oysters for breakfast every morning.
• Oysters are extremely sensitive to water quality and environmental factors such as pollution, silt, ice, rainfall and soil erosion.
• The most famous oyster dish is Oysters Rockefeller, coined around 1899 by Jules Alciatore—proprietor (and grandson of the founder) of Antoine’s Restaurant, in New Orleans. The dish was named after the wealthy Rockefeller family, for its incredibly rich, indulgent taste.
• Oyster shells provide essential nutrients for soil and promote plant growth, so crush those shells after you shuck ’em and put them in your garden or compost!
Tips for Storing and Cooking Oysters at Home:
• When you’re planning to cook oysters it is perfectly fine to buy shucked oysters, however, if you intend on eating raw oysters you should buy them in the shell and shuck your own.
• Never freeze un-shucked oysters. You can refrigerate freshly shucked oysters at 33-40 degrees for up to two days and live, un-shucked oysters for up to five days. Live oysters should be stored flat side up in a mesh bag or an open container loosely covered with a damp cloth, and never in a tight container, as they could suffocate and die.
• If an oyster’s shell is loose, it’s a sign that the oyster has died. Look for oysters that feel heavy, and have shells that are completely shut (or that shut all the way when tapped).
• West Coast oysters are significantly different in flavor than East Coast oysters. If you grew up in the American South, odds are you prefer East Coast oysters. They are saltier and more compact. West Coast oysters (other than the Japanese varieties) are larger and sweeter.
• You can also roast oysters—a popular tradition in the south, particularly indigenous to the Carolinas.
• Before shucking, rinse your oysters with cold water and use a scrub brush to remove any debris.
• When shucking oysters, be sure to save their juices (liquor), as it is very flavorful. If it’s cloudy or smells off, that’s an indication that the oyster is bad.
• We like this oyster shucking tutorial video: