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Notes from the Island Fishmonger

OYSTERS MADNESS

Like a lot of folks March is my favorite time of the year. The weather is changing into perfect golfing temps, March madness Basketball and St. Patty’s day are quickly approaching and like clockwork it is shellfish season. On March 17, you will not find me at work as I will be enjoying a morning round of golf followed by a cold Guinness, a dozen raw oysters, while watching a tournament basketball game. To me this is heaven.

Of course, this time of the year, the stone crab steals most of the press 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 and so far the catches have been plentiful don’t overlook the Quahogs, Mollusk 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 Spring is Mussels Marinara, Seafood Gumbo or Linguini with clams but 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. Recent travels to New Orleans and Pensacola Florida have opened my eyes to a variety of creative and delicious ways to serve Oysters.

 Most of us are all familiar with the traditional Oyster Rockefeller and the Oyster Casino but some of these oyster bars in the Gulf panhandle have taken the oyster to another level. smoked oysters with bacon, jalapenos, cheese and bread crumbs was one menu item that left a delightful impression on my taste buds while a broiled oyster with a Buffalo Wing sauce and crumbled blue cheese left me dazed and confused.

As a self-proclaimed oyster expert, it is essential that before I eat an oyster, I will actually 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 of Monks Oyster Bar and had a dozen of Monkafellers or an Oyster Bourdain at The Big Water Fish Market’s newest Raw bar addition to Siesta Key “Scotty’s Shellfish Shack” you are missing out on two local Oyster recipe Favorites.

May the world be your oyster….Whatever that means.

10 Oyster Facts 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. The shape of oysters varies and depends mainly on how many other oysters crowd about them in the bed as they develop.
  2. An oyster can filter 1.3 gallons of water per hour.
    Oysters filter water in 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.
    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. Most American oysters are of the same species.
    Get your oyster facts straight — oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and off the coast of Virginia are all the same oyster, Crassotrea virginica. This oyster species is native to the Gulf Coast and the East Coast. However, this does NOT mean they all taste the same.
  7. Gulf oysters used to have different names.
    Other than Gulf oysters, you may have tried Blue Points or Quonset Points. These are all the same species of oyster, but they are named after the specific locations where they are harvested. Once upon a time, Gulf oysters were also named after specific bays, but distributors started to group them all into the same category. This may change again in the future.
  8. Oysters get their flavors from their environments.
    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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.php)

Live happy…eat oysters!
Scott Dolan / Big Water Fish Market
6641 Midnight Pass, Siesta Key
941-554-8101