A couple years ago we spent a week in Cape Cod, Maine. We stayed along the beach front and stopped along the way in various towns. We had heard of several of these places because we’ve been enjoying oysters back at home and often told that some of the best ones come from the area. Wellfleet comes to mind as we got in the car one day and drove up to the area that had communal picnic tables along the sandy beach. We schlepped up to the window of Mac’s Seafood that was well stocked with the recent haul from the harvesters. We distinctly remember how fresh the oysters were coming out of the waters right that very day.
Back at our historical hotel in the town of Brewster we could see rectangular wire cage like structures spotting the shallow waters. When the tide was low we would go out daily to visit with a couple of the local ladies who were stooped over the cages. We quickly learned that these were indeed oyster beds. They were constantly measuring and checking each once carefully. Each day we would see them out there hunched over the open cages and chatting about life. The oysters were being raised for local consumption and there certainly was no rushing. These things take time.
For a while, it seems that Oysters were reserved for special occasions but today, it seems like fresh oysters can be had at any time of year. So, how do you know if an oyster is good or not? Going to a seafood restaurant with a solid reputation is a start so we looked to John Belknap, owner of Toronto’s John & Sons Oyster House for some advice.
Whether you decide to enjoy at a restaurant or entertaining friends and family at home, here are 10 great tips on looking for the freshest Oysters!
- Buy oysters from a local fish monger an cask for ‘select’ or ‘choice’ grade oysters.
- Look for oldsters that are tightly closed. Avoid oysters that have a soft or spongy shell.
- Choose oysters that are slightly rounded and evenly shaped, with a deep cup.
- The oyster should feel full. Tap on the shell, if it sounds hallow put it back, it’s probably dead.
- A fresh oyster should smell like the ocean. If it smells off, you will know it’s not fresh.
- Plan to buy 3 to 6 oysters per person.
- Size doesn’t matter when it comes to taste
- Oyster flavour varies depending on the marine environment in which they are grown, just like wine!
- You can get fresh oysters all year long. Depending on the season, weather and availability, you can get fresh oysters from either Canadian coasts. During the summer months you’ll find more oysters from the southern hemisphere where it’s currently winter, like New Zealand, and the cold waters produce firm plump oysters.
- When you bring the oysters home, store cup side down in a box or well ventilated basket in the refrigerator until ready to shuck and serve.
How do you serve your oysters?
John tells us to keep the oysters cool on a bed of crushed ice or sea salt just before serving. Add a few lemon wedges on the side and freshly grated horseradish. Offer up some Tabasco or homemade spicy cocktail sauce. We also love a bit of Sambal Oelek. Try a simple mignonette sauce by mixing finely chopped onion, white wine (instead of white wine vinegar for a twist) and fresh ground pepper.
You won’t want any drinks that are too overpowering. As my hubby says, you want to taste the freshness of the ocean and that should be the star. A refreshing white wine is ideal — Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc is a great choice as it has delicate notes of melon, citrus as pineapple. “…bottom line for me is the juicy acidity we find in the wine that’s the ultimate foil to the richness and salinity of the oyster.” said Dave Edmonds, Nobilo Winemaker.