One by one the diesel-humming boats made their way back to the Fulton harbor on the Texas Gulf shore, bringing in a day-fresh load of oysters from Copano Bay. As the sun slowly set, burlap bags full of oysters stacked up on the dock, ready to be taken from shore to shucker to plate.
So imagine my stupefaction when the half dozen oysters we ordered at a cafe just one block up from the same harbor came in little plastic cups. Yes, you’re reading that right. As a wasteful take on the half shell, these six oysters were served up each in their own plastic cups! I was too flabbergasted to protest. Speechless I tried them—and their taste revealed they came from a pre-shucked pint, you know: the kind you fry, stew or bake.
Oysters on the half shell: it comes with pretty unique memories, too!
The small, delicate oysters from the northern east coast waters of the Atlantic—Malpeques, Beausoleil, Raspberry Point— are my favorite kind of oyster: soft, creamy flesh and a perfect brine. Favorites in food so often come with a specific memory to back up why it’s singled out among so many other and equally tasty brethren. The Raspberry Point oyster is an example of this: my all time favorite oyster deserves this distinction in large part because it is, in fact, a most delicious oyster. Yet it is enforced by memories of when we’ve had them: huddled together by the toasty-warm crackling fire place, all rosy from a day out in winter wonderland, my son shucking a box of oysters just for us (he’s not a fan but he’ll shuck them).
All the way across the Atlantic to the coast of Scotland, oysters similar in their clean flavor, soft delicate meat and great brine we found in Loch Fyne. We were staying for the night in a B&B on the other side of Loch Fyne from the local oyster company, so bringing a box and shucking them on site was not an option. Instead, we ordered them right where they were harvested and slurped them with a view of the loch, watching locals and tourists alike enjoying the seafood.
A decade ago, detouring one day from Le Manche (Normandy) down the coast and around the bay, we found ourselves in Cancale (Brittany). Cancale is considered to be the oyster capital of France. The indigenous flat oyster (belon, named after a river in Brittany) is struggling to survive and the predominant variety cultivated to yield tonnes of oysters yearly, is the Japanese oyster variety that is more resistant to parasites and now readily available. Adapting to local custom, we slurped so many that we lost oyster-count.
What could possibly beat freshly shucked oysters slurped at a picnic table overlooking Tamales Bay in California on a sunny summer day after an invigorating coastal hike! At Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshal, Ca, you can shuck your own oysters—hauled from the waters right there in Tamales Bay: if you didn’t bring the necessary tools, a shucking knife comes complementary with your purchase of oysters.
Dutch “Zeeland” is known for its seafood—mussels, lobster, crabs, periwinkles, clams and of course: oysters. The Zeeuwse Creuse is also the Japanese oyster variety. Thanks to its habitat in the Dutch Oosterschelde, rich in salt and seaweed, this creuse has a firm, saline bite. The Zeeuwse Platte is the native oyster variety: round, smoother shell and creamy flesh, unfortunately it takes years to mature and doesn’t reproduce as easily as the Japanese oyster, making it a more rare (and definitely more expensive) oyster.
Wild oysters, on the other hand, are strewn for the picking on the Dutch Wadden (mudflats) in the north of the country. And what a regret, standing on the pier looking down on loads of oysters… but having tools nor boots and a ferry about to leave, looking at the wild oysters was all I did.
Raw on the half shell, breaded and fried, there is no place like New Orleans when it comes to baked oysters on the half shell. Home to the original oyster Rockefeller (created in1899 at Antoine’s when a shortage of French snails called for a substitution with something local), many of New Orleans’ creole restaurants have their creation of oysters topped with spices, herbs, breadcrumbs and cheese, including Arnaud’s original oysters Bienville, loaded with shrimp, mushroom, bell pepper before topping with breadcrumbs and parmesan.
Random Oyster Memories
- I had my first ever oyster in Dubrovnik (then still Yugoslavia). I swallowed it but with a face contorted in disgust. It took me years before I dared try another oyster, and strangely enough, expecting a similar dislike, this one whet my appetite for more. Many and always more!
- My son doesn’t like oysters but he’ll be happy to shuck them. He was becoming quite an expert until last summer, when the knife slipped and “shucked his thumb”. He’s not been keen to come near them since.
- The worst oyster I’ve ever had was in New Zealand. It was a Pacific Rock oyster: huge, meaty and tough it was served raw on the half shell where it should’ve been ground up in a stew. Of course we ordered a half dozen of them…
Let me know what you’re favorite oyster looks and tastes like: is it flat and tiny? Large and meaty? And: Do you chew? (oh please say yes: like wine, most of the qualities are lost once swallowed).