Vail Seasonal: Aw, shucks! Aw, shucks! Forget all those oyster myths
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –Folklore would have us believe that the only safe time to eat oysters is in months whose names contain the letter ‘r’.
Actually, oysters may be eaten any time of the year, but their ‘season’ is considered September through April, as they are spawning during the summer months. They are safe to eat during summer, but simply not as flavorful.
Oysters are plentiful where the waters are cold and clear, and can be found in sea water and fresh water, Louisiana to Canada, California to Alaska, Japan and the waters north of France. North American varieties include Wellfleet, Kumamoto, Blue Point, Barron Point, Malpeque and Cape Ann to name just a few.
Cultivation of oysters is a strong business in the United States. They require a clean water source and like a shallow depth. They are harvested from beds, with a rake-type instrument.
There is not much difference in taste between wild and cultivated oysters. You will, however, see a difference in the texture of the shell. Wild oysters encounter more variance in water temperature and turbulence, resulting in a more unique shell. Cultivated oysters grow in a somewhat controlled environment which yields oysters of very similar size and appearance.
Oysters, especially on the half shell, are considered a luxury food item with aphrodisiac qualities. There is no scientific fact to support this centuries-old concept, but the psychological association may be enough to produce the desired effect. Certainly though, people around the world have fallen in love with oysters – they are eaten raw, steamed, smoked, fried, sauteed, baked, canned and grilled.
“Oysters are a classic companion with champagne,” said Jeremy Kittelson, executive chef at Restaurant Avondale. “Add a cucumber mignonette sauce to balance the brininess, and you have an elegant starter for a special meal.”
Health benefits from eating oysters are numerous. One dozen will only add 110 calories to your daily intake, and that dozen is loaded with vitamins and minerals – A, B1, B2, C and D, calcium, iodine, iron, potassium, copper, sodium, zinc, phosphorous, manganese, sulphur and omega-3 fatty acids.
Invest in an oyster knife. They are available at kitchen or cutlery stores and are the proper tool for the job. You will also need a hand towel. Some professionals recommend heavy gloves, too. Shuck oysters on a hard, flat surface.
Place the oyster on your work surface and hold it tightly with the towel. Allow the pointed end of the oyster to peek out from the towel. Insert your oyster knife into the oyster’s pointed end and twist. You will feel the hinge break. The knife will then slide into the oyster.
Slide the knife around the entire perimeter of the shell. Try not to cut into the meat of the oyster, as presentation is important if you are serving them on the half shell. Avoid tipping the oyster so you don’t lose its liquor. Scrape the knife along the inside of the upper shell to loosen the muscle. Discard the top shell.
Then loosen the oyster from the bottom shell by running the knife along the inside of the shell, under the oyster. Serve on crushed ice with cucumber mignonette sauce, lemon wedges and Tabasco.
2 tablespoons cucumber, small dice, no seeds
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 cup dry Champagne
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
Pinch sea salt
Snipped chives (for garnish)
Mix first six ingredients together. Place in a serving dish and top with snipped chives. Surround with crushed ice. Place freshly shucked oysters around the sauce on top of the ice.
1/4 cup piquillo peppers, diced or roasted red peppers
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pinch saffron
Combine all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
Dredge freshly shucked oysters in flour. Deep fry till golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Drain on paper towels before assembling the sandwich.
Split a French baguette lengthwise. Line with chopped lettuce and sliced tomatoes. Add fried oysters. Top with rouille. Garnish with gherkins.
Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, (larkspurvail.com) at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale, (avondalerestaurant.com) opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.
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