Opening the oyster shell is called shucking. Some Cape Codders believe that the correct method of shucking is to insert a shucking tool or knife into the side of the shell, however, most of us think that it is easier to go in at the hinge. In the end it is what ever works for you. All of the oyster shuckers that I have seen wear heavy leather gloves. It is easy for the sharp tool to slip.
Some diners enjoy their oysters raw while others like them fried or prepared in recipes. Whether they are consumed raw or cooked the diner will be getting the same nutritional value. That said, the raw preparation, does deliver higher levels of the nutrients. Oysters contain high levels of protein, zinc and selenium. It is a food that is known to strengthen the immune system.
There are several ways to eat raw oysters:
Some slowly slurp them directly from the shell while others give them a quick chew.
Others flavor them with cocktail sauce and lemon.
Still others enjoy them with a shot of vodka or tequila.
There are even those who savor them with a wine or champagne chaser.
These methods are all perfectly acceptable and developing your own unique style is half of the fun.
The next part of this article will tell you where to get this wonderful delicacy. The answer is, right here in Falmouth by the Sea. Some of the best restaurants for oyster dining are: La Cucina sul Mare, C Salt, Quarterdeck, TGC Grill and last but by no means least, the appropriately named Shuckers.
When I am enjoying oysters on the half shell at home, I like to make my own sauce.
Pat’s Oyster Sauce
Yield is about 1/3 of a cup
1 can of oysters
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
8 teaspoons of soy sauce
in a sauce pan, simmer oysters with their liquid for 20 minutes
strain liquid and discard oysters pieces
continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced to 5 teaspoons
combine the remainder of the ingredients, chill and enjoy with your favorite oysters.
If you enjoy oysters, an oyster lover’s heaven can be found at the “Wellfleet Oysterfest”. In October of this year it will be on the 19th and 20th from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. each day.
While all of the bedchambers at the Palmer House have their own romantic charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of adventures sampling Cape Cod’s finest seafood, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs for a relaxing stay before and after your day.
Part I: The Growing and Harvesting of Oysters on Cape Cod
Folks visit Cape Cod for a number of reasons. Some come because of our beautiful beaches with their warm sand and gentle waves. Others are looking for a quiet restful place to unwind. However, without a doubt one of the primary reasons for a visit to the Cape is our wonderfully fresh sea food.
Among the popular seafood choices are oysters an irregularly shaped mullusk or “crassostrea virginica”. Oysters are the most valuable crop legally grown in the US today. The oysters that are in the highest demand are grown and harvested right here on Cape Cod. It is said that, “like wine, no two oysters are the same.” Some are grown on farms while others grow in the wild and are plucked from their natural surroundings. Each oyster type has its unique flavor. The things that determine that flavor are its location, the salinity level of the water or in the case of farmed oysters, the growing methods. The temperature of the water, the water’s current and the mix of freshwater/saltwater mixture are also factors. Also, whether the oyster comes from the Cape Cod Bay side or the Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Sound side of the cape is also a factor. Even if the seed oysters come from the same hatchery, the conditions play a greater role in the flavor.
Some interesting facts about oysters are that they reduce when the water gets warmer. Also, they change gender one or more times during their lifetime.
This area has a number of oyster breeding grounds; Dennis, Osterville, Cotuit, Wellfleet Bay, Brewster and Barnstable Harbor. Each of the oysters harvested from the above locations, has its own unique taste. In addition, the cape’s unpredictable weather can affect the crop from year to year.
When oysters are farmed, the seedlings can be purchased from a hatchery or they can be collected right on site. The growers set them up on what are called “hats”. I think that they got their name because they look like a very tall stove pipe hat. The surface of the hat is coated with a lyme and concrete mixture. The concrete is used so that the oysters will adhere to the hat and the lyme because the oysters use it to build their shells.
Many people think that the larger oysters are the best, however, one can find an oyster with a large shell with little meat inside. The goal is to have a regulation sized oyster. That is one that measures three inches at its widest point. Also, the experts seek out the ones that have a deep curve in the belly of the shell. This indicates that it will be meaty and plump.
When harvesting oysters, farmers will usually set up a bin system. One bin each for ‘ready-for-sale”, “not quite ready” the third for “tossing” and the last is designated as “no good”. Then some farmers sort even further. They sort by restaurant because they know what each chef prefers.
In Wellfleet there is a farm that is located next to a wild bed. The oysters taste the same. The difference is that the farmed or managed oysters have a much higher yield. That is because the oysters are grown in cages, in mesh bags or on trays. thus they are protected from predators. Also, the farmers guard against over crowding.
The six month oyster growing season is from May through October. Basically there are two methods of growing oysters. One is called, “intertidal”, which is when the oysters can sometimes sit for hours at a time out of the water when the tide goes out. The second method is said to be “sub-tidal” which means that the oyster spends its entire life submerged in water. Sub-tidal oysters tend to grow more rapidly because of their constant flow of water and thus, a food source. Many people believe that the deeper colder water gives the oyster a more desirable briny flavor. As for the intertidal variety that grow more slowly because they do not have continuous access to food during the time that they are out of the water. However, it is believed that the strong rays of the sun and more rapid fluctuations in air temperature, bake off harmful organisms on their shells. Farmers also have easy access to the crop with the sub-tidal variety.
The oyster farms are all on areas that are designated government grants. Some are as large as 34 acres. the “Cotuit Oyster Company” is family owned and one of the oldest. The farm dates back to 1857 and has five aqua culture grants. The seedlings are placed into floating bags where they take advantage of the nutrient rich surface water. The bags protect them from predators. When they reach the desired size they are planted on the bottom where they complete their live cycle before being harvested and sorted.
Because oysters are adaptive to their environment, they are capable of thriving in both high and low salinity waters. The average seawater salinity is 35 parts per million. However, in the waters of Dennis the salinity is 32 ppm. That means that the oysters grow a little slower than those grown in Wellfleet Harbor where the salt water mixes with fresh. There the salinity level is as low as 27 ppm. In that situation there is more algae in the water. Algae is the oysters’ favored food, therefor the Wellfleet oysters grow more rapidly. The Weelfleet oysters’ sweet aftertaste is said to be due to the its saltwater/freshwater habitat.
Another interesting fact about oysters is that they are known as, “filter feeders” which means that they draw seawater in, filter out and consume the algae and expel clean filtered water. One oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day. Oysters are good for the environment.
While all of the bedchambers at the Palmer House have their own romantic charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day sampling Cape Cod’s oysters, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs for a relaxing stay before and after your day.
“WOW, what a wonderful cooking class on the Cape!”
Anejo Mexican Bistro’s head chef Joshua Hanoka was wonderful. Yes, much to our delight, he has promised to return for another Cape Cod cooking class this Spring and a complete series of classes next winter. The details for these cooking classes will be listed in our spring newsletter.
Josh started the class by teaching us a few interesting facts about knives. He brought his own “rocking knife” for this demonstration. This is a truly beautiful instrument that was made in Japan by the same company that makes samurai swords. The steel in the knife was formed by using the same technique of folding the steel back upon itself many times as is used in the making of the swords. This technique not only produces high quality metal but also a unique almost iridescent pattern forms on the surface of the blade.
Josh began by teaching us the distinguishing characteristics of several of the peppers that are used in Mexican cooking. We also learned that most of the heat of a pepper is found in the seeds and inside membrane. Therefore, if one prefers a milder version of a dish he/she can filet the membrane out of the pepper, leaving only the sweet outer skin. Josh demonstrated this technique.
Jesse Kersey, one of Anajo’s owners, served a Spanish version of champagne for tasting as class started. We were happy to use our new engraved champagne glasses. The engraving was done by Maine Coast Stone Engraving of Bar Harbor, Maine. They not only engrave stone but also commemorative bricks and glass. For more information go to: www.mainecoaststone.com
All of the food that is made for Anejo is made freshly in their kitchen by Josh and his team. He mentioned that some diners have commented on some of the sauces varying in flavor and intensity from one visit to another. His explanation is that the fresh vegetables that are used are not always the same flavor and intensity, thus giving the dish a slight variation.
About half way through the class Josh took a break to reorganize, and Jesse stepped in to instruct us in the proper method of making a margarita. All of the lime juice that is used for the margaritas and in the cooking at Anejo is hand squeezed. The margaritas were delicious.
During the second half of the class we learned to make: Fire roasted Tomato Salsa, Pork Pabil, Caramelized Onion and Roasted Garlic Refried Beans, Pico de Gallo, Hot Salsa, Salsa Verde Cruda, Salsa Verde (cooking sauce), Salsa Rojas, Mexican Red Rice, Mole Sauce and last but by no means least guacamole. No one went home from this Cape Cod cooking class hungry.
At Anejo, diners can have their guacamole prepared to their liking at table side.
During Anejo’s first summer in Falmouth, we had three lovely students from Romania working at the Palmer House. They would work for us during the mornings and at 4:00 PM they would walk to Anejo to bus tables. It was not long before Jesse and Jamie Surprenant, his partner, realized that these charming young women were an asset to their establishment. They taught the girls to wheel the carts from table to table and to make the guacamole. Many of our guests were surprised to find that the same person who served them their breakfast at the Palmer House also made their guacamole that evening. As the students were headed home at the end of the season, their only regret was that when they returned to Romania they would not have the ingredients to show off their new-found skills.
Anejo Mexican Bistro & Tequila Bar has been a wonderful asset to Falmouth and Cape Cod. We at the Palmer House are pleased that we have formed this cooking partnership, and are looking forward to future classes. This Cape Cod Mexican Cooking Class was held on March 10, 2012.