Notes from the Island Fishmonger: October 2020

STONE CRAB AND OYSTERS MADNESS BEGINS

Like a lot of folk’s fall is my favorite time of the year… as October in Florida is perfect. The weather is changing into great golfing temperatures, beautiful sunsets, long beach walks and like clockwork, it is shellfish season. Hopefully by practicing safe social distancing suggestions we can return to healthy and safe work and social conditions. Whenever possible, a dozen raw oysters, a few fresh cracked stone crabs, and a cold one will take your mind of today’s present unrest.

Of course, this time of the year the stone crab steals most of the press as stone crab season opens on October 15th and most Floridians and snowbirds are enjoying their sweet crab fix for the first time before the season ends in May.

While it is true that stone crabs are a must have this time of year, don’t overlook the quahogs, mollusks, and bivalves. A few uncommon names for the common clams, mussels and oysters that thrive in the colder months as the water temperatures fall.

It’s the time of year when we look for seafood delights that are a little heavier than the summer shrimp gazpacho dish and not quite as comforting as a winter paella or jambalaya… no, what we are looking for in the fall is  mussels marinara, seafood gumbo or linguini with clams. However, my favorite is the granddaddy of all shellfish, the oyster.

Right now, the oyster profile is that of a very briny, buttery and clean taste with a salty finish. Oysters are most commonly eaten raw, steamed, or grilled.

As a self-proclaimed oyster expert, it is essential that before I eat an oyster, I need to witness the opening of the shell to ensure maximum freshness and taste. The best oyster bars shuck the oyster in front of you and serve your freshly shucked dozen with a cold draft beer. If you haven’t sat at the bar at Monk’s Oyster Bar and had a dozen of their Monkefellas or had a dozen raw served with a mignonette sauce at Big Water Fish Market you are missing out on two local oyster recipe favorites. And just in time for oyster season, Big Water Fish Market will open their newly renovated raw and stone crab bar on October 15th.

May the world be your oyster… whatever that means.

A Few Oyster Facts I Bet You Didn’t Know

Get ready to be a connoisseur, because after you read these oyster facts you’ll be able to impress your savviest friends and family with your oyster information. You might even change the way you eat oysters and enjoy flavors you never knew were there.

  1. Oysters change their gender.
    One of the most interesting oyster facts is that oysters change their sex during their lives, starting as males and usually ending as females.
  2. An oyster can filter 1.3 gallons of water per hour.
    Oysters filter water through their gills and consume food, like plankton, in the process. Oysters can maintain the balance of a marine ecosystem by reducing excess algae and sediment that can lead to hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, causing other marine life to die. The oyster population of Chesapeake Bay used to filter the entire water volume of the bay in just three days.
  3. Oysters are shaped by their beds.
    The shape of oysters varies and depends mainly on how many other oysters crowd about them in the bed as they develop. Once an oyster attaches to a bed (a surface occupied by a group of oysters), it grows and forms around the surface it attaches to as well as the other oysters around it.
  4. Pearls don’t only come from oysters.
    All oysters are capable of producing pearls, but not the shiny, pretty pearls of value. In fact, most pearls are harvested from an inedible type of oyster as well as from freshwater mussels.
  5. Humans have been eating and cultivating oysters for thousands of years.
    Oysters have been eaten by humans since prehistoric times and cultivated at least since the times of the Roman Empire. The Roman Sergius Orata was the first person known to cultivate oysters by building a system that could control water levels.
  6. Oysters get their flavors from their environment.
    Although most American oysters are the same species, they have different flavors. Because oysters filter so much water, they develop a flavor profile from their environment. Different bodies of water have varying levels of salt and different kinds of nutrients.
  7. Like wines, oysters have a variety of flavor profiles.
    The flavor of oysters can be categorized mainly by the following flavor characteristics: briny, buttery, sweet, metallic and mild. Experts can break down these flavors even further, picking out flavors like melon, cucumber, mushroom and more. Keep this tidbit of oyster information in mind next time you try an oyster on the half shell.
  8. Oysters are rich in vitamins and nutrients.
    Oysters contain a variety of vitamins and nutrients including zinc, calcium, magnesium, protein, selenium, and vitamin A. They also contain especially high levels of vitamin B12, iron and monounsaturated fat – the “healthy” kind of fat that you also find in olive oil. Source: https://www.originaloysterhouse.com/oyster-facts/