We are beyond fortunate to have the world’s best oysters grown right here on Vancouver Island. Oysters thrive in our clean, plankton and algae rich waters. Up and down the west and east side of our island, oysters are grown in fjords, islets, bays and any small cove that provides the right combination of food source from pristine waters.
Covid is an opportunity to learn and eat more shellfish at home confidently. Oysters are a local, sustainable and delicious food source that can easily be incorporated into your daily diet. They are high in protein and rich in nutrients — omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and zinc — that promote a healthy brain, heart, and immune system.
Owner of the Wandering Mollusk, Jess Taylor is on a mission to raise the oyster’s profile as a versatile gastronomic delight. Today he shows us how to select the best oysters for your love or friends this Valentine’s day.
LOOK FOR THE TAGS
Selecting fresh shellfish need not be intimidating. Armed with a bit of knowledge you can confidently procure the freshest oysters, mussels and clams to consume at home. Lucky for us the shellfish industry is heavily regulated to help protect us from pathogens and other things that can get into the water. What does this mean? Oysters are tested on the farms every week to ensure they are clean and pass Canada’s rigorous standards. The best part is that when the shellfish leaves the farm they receive a tag. This tag tells you where they were grown, by who and most importantly when they were harvested.
Use this information when you go to the store. Anyone who cares about fresh shellfish will be happy to show you the tag, tell you where they’re from and how old they are. All you need to see is the harvest date. Never select oysters that are more than one week old.
Secondly, we prefer to pick up our oysters from places that have best practices. For us this means live tanks! Filtering water helps keep the shellfish fresher for much longer. Places such as Oak Bay Seafood and Finest at Sea in James Bay practice this.
What constitutes a fresh oyster? A fresh oyster has a bit of weight and doesn’t feel too light in your hand (means it’s dry), isn’t open already (you should never have to tap an oyster closed) and when you open the oyster the meat should glisten with a bit of shine. This is a sign of a fresh and healthy oyster; when you can see that the liquor (natural juice) is still in the shell.
If the oyster is dried out and skinny that means it has filtered out all the water that was in the shell which is a sign it has been sitting too long. Oysters should be plump and fill the shell as if you just pulled it off the beach. This goes for buck a shuck… you need to know they are the oldest oysters in the restaurant. Why do you think you need so much sauce to eat them? A fresh oyster can be enjoyed naked. Crisp, clean and a light finish. Mignonettes and lemon on the plate are to provide acid to balance the salt not drown the oyster.
To store your shellfish we recommend you put oysters, clams and mussels deep cup down in a shallow bowl and cover with a wet cloth. Place your oysters in your refrigerator. If you keep the cup side down you will lose less of the natural juices known as the liquor. We recommend that all oysters be consumed within a day or two of purchase; or you can hold for 3-5 days if they are fresh and you store them to the above instructions.
Once you learn how to select fresh oysters, you can truly start to learn how to shuck and dive into the tasting notes known as merroir which is the marine equivalent to wine’s terroir.
If you take the time to explore, oysters can be one of your greatest pleasures to enjoy at home. No restaurant needed. This Valentine’s, select a few oysters to enjoy with a peaty scotch from Macaloney’s Caledonian Distillery in Saanich.