Today, I ripped off an age-old band-aid, and had my very first, very juicy, salty and citrusy oyster.
Actually, I had six.
And-- it was OK.
Growing up with a deathly-oyster-allergic mother, and in a city no where close enough to the sea to really experiment, oysters were never really a temptation during my youth. They seemed mysterious and slimy, while also intriguing as little elixers of life.
Now living in New York City, where Oyster-fever is booming heavily these days, my enthusiasm for the little shelled critters has grown, especially encouraged by a couple oyster-positive situations. First off, many of my favorite spots where I love to grab a classy cocktail or two have started serving oysters- and really only oysters- or bread and butter. And while I love bread and butter, especially with flaky sea salt and a hint of seaweed, that’s not REALLY dinner.
The other great development that has evolved is the sustainable seafood movement in the City, which is truly one of the big driving forces for my starting this project. And the cherry on the cake: oysters are being toted as one of the Happiest Fisheries around!
In truth, Oysters are magical for many reasons. They are filter-feeders, and can clean vast quantities of water at great speed- up to 20 gallons of water a day!
In fact, there’s a project going on right now called the “Billion Oyster Project,” whose team is working with NYC public schools to restore NY Harbor one oyster at a time. As they plant oysters all along NY waterway, their goal is to plant 1 billion oysters over the next 20 years. With 11 million of these little guys already planted, the cleaning progress of the waterways has been noticed: the “black, anoxic mayonnaise” of the sea bottom is already improving. But, these aren’t “eating” oysters: for now, they are simply little cleaners of the ecosystem.
As Robert Rheault of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association said: “1 ton of harvested oyster meat represents the removal of 4 lb of nitrogen from the water, or the waste contribution of 38 people a year.”
Which is so cool. Think what this could do for NY waterways in the future!
Oysters are also very sustainable. In general, shellfish (mussels, clams & oysters) are one of the world’s most sustainable forms of protein in the world. They are cultivated with a very low impact on the ecosystem. Unlike other forms of aquaculture, oysters do not require fish meal, and are self-sustaining, feeding on tiny particulate matter from the sea itself. On top of this, oyster farms don’t have the problems of waste run-off, as they are literally cleaning the water. They are also very traceable- just like a Beanie Baby, each bag of oysters is tagged with its origin, distributor and harvest date. They are also truly nutritious, packed full of zinc, minerals and vitamins.
After absorbing all this oyster-positive information, I was ready for the big Taste. In my opinion, it was less of a taste, and more of a Texture. The first oyster, I made the mistake of not chewing, and the slimy little guy just slid down my throat, leaving a trail of lemon juice and not much else. For the second, my friend and oyster-coach decided I should have a little chew.
So I took another little shell, gently dipped it into my mouth, and had few chews. With this new technique, both the flavor and texture improved, and I was encouraged to keep on swallowing! My face might mislead you- but I did enjoy the little oceanic treats.
Now: your turn. Go eat some Oysters!
When you’re picking oysters, I think both Wild and Farmed oysters are good choices. At this point, 80% of the wild oyster populations have been wiped out, and 95% of the oysters in the market are farmed.
Here’s a list of Oyster farms in the USA: http://www.inahalfshell.com/oysterfarms/
And if you’re a New Yorker, In a Half Shell has created this delightful map of where to find the best Oysters in NYC: http://www.allyoucaneatpress.com/shop/vol5-new-york-oyster-map
For more resources on oysters, check out:
The Billion Oyster Project: https://www.billionoysterproject.org/
In a Half Shell blog: http://www.inahalfshell.com/ (for all Oyster-reviews & resources!)
Shellshocked (the movie): http://www.shellshockedmovie.com/
Sustainable Seafood Week NYC: http://www.sswnational.com/nyc/