Monday, February 8, 2016

Better things, and oysters

So about 6 years ago, I started getting into oysters.  Many people (landlubbers!) will think that shellfish are gross, slimy, and odd animals to eat.  And while one of those things is true (the slimy!), there's a huge movement going on right now of people enjoying oysters.

What is an oyster, and why are people excited about it? 

Oysters are bivalve (two-shells) molluscs, like snails or octopus, that attach themselves to a surface and filter feed algae from the water.   They're like grazers of the sea, except instead of moving around, the food floats by them.

Because oysters are filter feeders, sometimes their flavor changes by the location they're grown, which means you can sample different and interesting tasting oysters depending on where they came from.  This is part of the excitement of oysters right now. 

(Side note- This can also mean that if the farmer isn't careful, the oyster could also make you sick. Always ask where your oysters come from, and check your local health reports.)

These are the basics.  There's so much more to talk about!

Oysters for markets, flavor, and economies

Now oysters are growing in the food industry, which means you'll likely start seeing more places have them on their menu.  Getting a dozen oysters as an appetizer may be more than likely at a future gathering of yours.  

So why are oysters also exciting in the market place?  Well, you can support local farms, depending on where you're at.  Along both the US East and West coasts, there's plenty of farms growing oysters and other shellfish, and they're also just as excited about their varieties and types of shellfish that they can bring to the table!

As I mentioned above in the intro, oyster sometimes get different flavors from their individual bays, sea beds, and river mouths where they grow.  A Hamas Hamas will taste far different from a Olympia, or from a Kumamoto.  There are some amazing guides to oysters out there, on flavor, style, and location.

As for economy, oysters, if you can find out where they're from, support local farmers a lot of the time.  Oysters grown here in America adds to our local economies, jobcols, and eogical maintenance in terms of keeping bays clean from toxic substances which could harm people, fish, and oysters!  Oysters also accumulate calcium carbonate from the water, reducing CO2 in our oceans.  Their shells also make great homes for other ocean critters. 

A quick guide for oysters; the basics:

So there are varieties upon varieties of oysters.   Let's get started on some of the basics.

Most oysters people eat are among only a few species, even with the regional and water differences.  This makes things easier, depending on where you live and where your oysters came from.

Crassostrea gigas - The Pacific Oyster
The Pacific oyster originally came from Japan, and it's often larger than other oysters.  That "gigas" in its name is similar to "gigantic".  It's widely grown on the west coast, and its popular to be eaten raw or made into stews and chowders- often due to their size.  Most pacific oysters are eaten while they're smaller, raw.  A full grown one can be over 6 inches long! 

Crassostrea virginica - The Eastern Oyster
The Eastern oyster is one that's mostly grown, well, on the East coast.  The tastes for these oysters is more varied by the area where they grow leading to a terroir style of taste interest.  The shell is more uniform in shape than other oyster species- it's a lot flatter than the Pacific oyster.  People eat these raw or cooked, depending on size.

Crassostrea sikamea - The Kumamoto Oyster
The Kumamoto oyster is a small oyster originating from Japan.  Their flavor and size has drawn the musings in tastebuds across America, making it extremely popular.  This species of oyster is very small, but has a sweeter, mild flavor.  This is the oyster species that will make an oyster fan out of you!

Ostrea lurida - The Olympia Oyster
The Olympia oyster is the native oyster growing around the Pacific Northwest coastline; it's grown in small quantities by a few companies.  Very small, this oyster doesn't get much larger than a small chicken egg, but the scarcity and flavor of the oyster can make it a nice treat for people trying oysters for the first time. 

Ostrea edulis - The European Flat Oyster
This is the oyster mostly grown in Europe on the Atlantic coast.  People often favor this oyster for its taste- the salty, lingering taste can remain with you even after you've enjoyed your meal.  Lots of people enjoy this oyster raw, without any extra seasonings. 

As said, these are just a sampling of oyster types, but certainly the most commonly found at your local oyster bar.  Happy eating! 

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