Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Bite of the Sea


In February, the Neuse Sailing Association (NSA), of which we are members, held its annual Shrimperoo. All the spicy steamed shrimp you can eat. Participants bring a covered dish, and NSA supplies the shrimp along with a couple of free beers or wine. The weather was not the best for being outside with scattered rain showers, high winds and low temperatures. Still, we ate our fill, gathered with friends and enjoyed ourselves.

Last Saturday was the annual NSA Oyster Roast. [It always follows the Shrimperoo by about a month, both events clever ruses to remind members to pay their annual dues.] Again, NSA provides all the oysters plus free beer or wine. For me, cold beer is best as the taste does not overpower the delicate flavor of the oysters. At the Oyster Roast there are also spicy vodka (think Bloody Mary light on the bloody) oyster shooters. I never imagined that vodka would compliment an oyster so nicely.

The weather forecast was almost identical to the Shrimperoo weather, but the rain and wind held back. Around the shucking tables, oyster knives flashed and shucked shells thunked across the wood to disappear into the magic hole in the center of the table. Slurping the oysters straight off the shell or dropping them onto a saltine cracker with butter, cocktail sauce or lemon juice, the experienced shuckers could eat four to six per minute. I was shucking for myself and Beth, so I ate about half of that. (She admits that she is not inclined to learn how to shuck for herself. I wonder why.)

Shucked shells and butter



Raw oysters and accoutrements; see magic hole in table
Most of the oysters were steamed. Winter was warmer than usual, and it was a warm day for the roast, so most of us steered away from too many raw oysters. The steamed ones were good; the raw ones were great.  Raw oysters are the primal essence of tasting the wild, of taking a bite of the sea. Tender, cool, sweet and slightly salty, fresh oysters are a unique flavor. They taste like the sea air smells.

Beth and I love oysters. She makes oyster stew for Thanksgiving Day breakfast, a tradition passed down by my mother from my Scottish grandmother, and Christmas Eve dinner. Years ago, when we lived in Atlanta, we vacationed on St. George Island, Florida which stretches for about twenty-seven miles between the Gulf of Mexico and Apalachicola Bay. The bay is renowned for its oysters.When we crossed the bridge to the island, if we saw oystermen standing on the bows of their boats digging into the depths of the bay with their long oyster tongs, we knew the bay was "open"; there were fresh oysters to be purchased.

Most of the fish houses are on the mainland in the village of Eastpoint. The first time I went to buy oysters, I asked for two dozen. The lady behind the counter gave me a quizzical look, her eyes saying that I must be an idiot to ask for so few. She told me she could not sell me two dozen, but went into the back to see if she could sell me less than a bushel. She could, and she held out a huge burlap sack that held "about half a bushel".

"That'll be $7.50."

"About how many in there?" I inquired, not quite sure I wanted more than the two dozen I had requested..

"Maybe four dozen or so," she replied.

"Sounds great," I said, smiling, confident that Beth and I could eat that many over the course of a couple of days.

Back at our beach cottage, we put our two year old daughter to bed and went out onto the porch to eat some oysters. Cold Coronas with lime and oysters on saltines with Tabasco seemed like a good appetizer. I shucked a dozen for each of us, but we wanted more, so we ate another dozen each. Four dozen gone from our sack, and it looked as if no one had eaten a one. I suspected there were a few more than the number the nice lady had told me.

The fresh oysters were the best we had ever eaten. Unfortunately, it was the first time I had shucked my own. I thought I was prepared, having been smart enough to buy an oyster knife. However, I did not think about holding the oysters while I shucked. Oyster shells are sharp like a razor where the two shells close. And an oyster knife, in neophyte hands, can slip easily when trying to lever the hinge between the shell halves. My left hand was sliced from fingertip to wrist. I used Tabasco on more and more oysters to disguise the blood.

The following night, we another four dozen. We decided to steam the rest. In the end, we had over twelve dozen oysters in our half bushel burlap sack, and we ate every one.

At this year's NSA Oyster Roast, I ate more oysters than ever in one sitting. Simply delicious. I was not even disappointed that we did not find a pearl; last year I found two in one oyster. Sated, we returned to Wild Haggis before the forecast weather caught up with us. When storms circled nearby, the thunderheads exploded skyward lit by the brilliance of the setting sun.

Storm cloud rising over Whittaker Creek Marina

In the early evening, a dry squall roared through with cold gusts out of the north. Good sleeping.

[Note: Oysters can filter more than a gallon of water per hour. When the Chesapeake Bay was healthy, its oysters could filter all the water in the bay every three to four days. Advocates for the Chesapeake Bay continue to try to improve water quality, but the EPA has been reluctant to enforce anti-pollution regulations already promulgated. North Carolina appears to benefit from broader support and is working to restore more of its historical oyster beds.

The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe last year threatened Apalachicola Bay. The bay is closely monitored by the state which will close it in a flash if conditions are not safe, but the stigma of  possible contamination closed the market for Apalachicola Bay oysters last year.

For ideas about how to prepare oysters, see the Menu at Boss Oyster, our favorite restaurant in Apalachicola; no one does this (to my knowledge) in North Carolina or I would send you to their site. These oysters are microwaved for about 30 seconds, mainly to melt the cheese in the topping. Of course, the raw ones are still best. http://www.apalachicolariverinn.com/bossmenu.html ]



2 comments:

  1. We went to the oystershucker with Jackie and Dick 2 years ago and had a blast. I'm not a hugh oyster fan, but Steve had enough for both of us.

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  2. I remember because we had barely arrived at OHM, barely knew you two, and the roast was at Wayne's restaurant/yacht club. I would have been sorry to miss it if I had not been so discombobulated from all the stuff we had just done to move out of house and onto the boat. Seems like ten years ago.
    Take care. J

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