Northshore Magazine

November 2014

Northshore magazine showcases the best that the North Shore of Boston, MA has to offer.

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Page 193 of 259

192 a shucking knife and that tiny, seldom- used seafood fork: It's oyster season! From September through December, the harvest of farm-raised oysters throughout New England and down into Long Island Sound results in a tremendous supply of fresh con- tenders ready to duke it out in a variety of restaurant raw bar and holiday platter taste tests. The winner is always the sampler (don't tell the oysters; they try so hard). Brassy, yeasty, briny, fruity, buttery, and earthy are just some of the adjectives used to describe an oyster's taste from start to finish. And while oysters hail- ing from Prince Edward Island, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and farther down the coast all exhibit different flavor profiles, it's interesting to note that they are all the same type. Out of the five oyster species cultivated commercially in North America, the Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, grows along the East Coast from New England to Florida and is noted for being large, firm, and briny. Writes Rowan Jacobsen in his oyster guidebook, A Geography of Oysters, "The Eastern is the Riesling of oysters. From the wrong place, it can be simple, one- dimensional, almost flavorless, but when grown in great waters, it can achieve a brilliant subtlety and refinement, a trans- parency of sea and minerals that some consider unsurpassed." How can one species propagate so many different experiences on the palate? One could ask the same question about wine, and yet no one assumes one Sauvignon Blanc will taste like another. The reason is that lo- cation and growing conditions influence the end product. In an oyster's case, shell shape, cup depth, and meat quality are impacted by environmental factors like water tempera- ture, salinity, algae levels, mineral presence, mud proximity, and more. When European explorers landed in the New World, they encountered many un- knowns, including the Eastern oyster. Un- like the European Flat variety from back home, this American novelty impressed with its ample meat and clean taste. As Jacobsen writes in his oyster geography, "The Eastern oysters made the European Flats look like wimps. They grew in mas- sive reefs, stretching for miles and rising twenty feet high…. They fed prodigiously, grew immensely fat…. They were, in short, American." But 20-foot-high oyster reefs did not last. "A century ago, people ate a lot of oysters," relates Chris Sherman, president of Island Creek Oysters, a Duxbury-based shellfish farm and wholesaler. "There was an oyster bar on every street corner in New York City, and they were sold in taverns throughout Boston," he contin- ues. "But a combination of overfishing, pollution, and diseases affected the East Coast's two main producing regions, the Chesapeake and Long Island Sound, and much of the wild population died. Once the supply went away, oysters fell out of our gastronomic culture." During the past decade or so, supply and demand have increased once again thanks to the rise of aquaculture. While wild oysters are still harvested via resi- dential shellfish permits, wild populations Gifts from the Sea Clockwise from top left, Shucking oysters at Finz, Chris Sherman, president of Island Creek Oysters, The Blue Ox's raw bar, Island Creek harvest shack photographs by elise donoghue (top left, bottom right); by michael turek (top right, bottom left)

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