With myr­iad va­ri­eties spawn­ing the mar­ket, slurp­ing down an oys­ter has never been more of an ad­ven­ture

Wine & Dine - - CONTENTS -

With myr­iad va­ri­eties spawn­ing the mar­ket, slurp­ing down an oys­ter has never been more of an ad­ven­ture

We may know them as lobes of unc­tu­ous meat brimming with briny liquor. But oys­ters, a shell­fish rich in pro­tein, vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, and some say aphro­disiac qual­i­ties, are as var­ied as they come. Each is a prod­uct of its re­gion and pro­ducer. Think names like Blue Pool, Sea Cow or Kelly Na­tive that speak of the oys­ter as an in­di­vid­ual.

The con­cept of merroir—the marine equiv­a­lent of ter­roir—largely ac­counts for this speci­ficity. Like wine, oys­ters im­bibe the char­ac­ter­is­tics of their en­vi­ron­ment. As fil­ter-feed­ers, they draw wa­ter in and out of their gills, feed­ing on the phy­to­plank­ton that gets trapped in the process. Ev­ery de­tail, down to wa­ter tem­per­a­ture and salin­ity, af­fects the flavour of the fi­nal oys­ter. French poet LéonPaul Far­gue put it well when he said eat­ing oys­ters was like "kiss­ing the sea on the lips".

Farm­ing tech­nique plays a role as well. Take the rel­a­tively re­cent method of tum­bling oys­ters. As oys­ters tend to grow long and flat if left to them­selves, farm­ers started ro­tat­ing oys­ters in­ter­mit­tently in bar­rel tum­bler ma­chines. This helps to get their edges to chip off and ‘cup up’ and form deeper shells. The method has evolved to in­clude tide tum­bling, or plac­ing the oys­ters in bags at­tached to floats in the sea. Due to the work­out from the chang­ing tides, deeper cups de­velop, the colour of the shell may be­come more pol­ished, and the tex­ture of the meat more sup­ple. Hama Hama Oys­ter Com­pany at Lili­waup, Washington, for in­stance uses this method, tum­bling their Blue Pool oys­ters in bags on buoys. The re­sult is a smooth cup and shell, depth of flavour, and a fin­ish that hints of car­rots or crisp let­tuce.

As to be ex­pected from such ar­ti­sanal pro­duc­tion, flavour pro­files of oys­ters around the world can range greatly. Jonathan Kin­sella, ex­ec­u­tive chef at db Bistro & Oys­ter Bar breaks it down this way: “While French oys­ters like Fine de Claire and Gil­lardeau are gen­er­ally very fat and creamy, East Coast Amer­i­can oys­ters tend to be more crisp and briny with a sweet min­eral fin­ish. West Coast Amer­i­can oys­ters tend to be slightly smaller and more ir­reg­u­larly shaped, plump, sweet, and have a low salin­ity. Ir­ish oys­ters have good min­er­al­ity and veg­e­tal char­ac­ter­is­tics, with hints of sea­weed and cu­cum­ber. Aus­tralian and New Zealand oys­ters are gen­er­ally larger and salty, so I pre­fer to pre­pare them through bar­be­cue or grat­inée.”

And that’s just the tip of the oys­ter reef. The world re­ally is our oys­ter when it comes to tast­ing the unique­ness of each one. Here’s a look at a few.


Orig­i­nat­ing from Ja­pan, this species of oys­ter is hardy, fast-grow­ing and easy to cul­ti­vate. It prefers an es­tu­ary en­vi­ron­ment where it attaches to rock and de­bris un­der­wa­ter and on the hard floor. But it can also grow in waters with mud bot­toms. That is why it is the most com­mon type of oys­ter pro­duced world­wide, from the US, Canada, Europe to Asia and Aus­tralia. In ap­pear­ance, the oys­ters tend to be ob­long-shaped with fluted shells, with one side that is deeply cupped.

United States

Some much sought-af­ter Pa­cific oys­ters are those raised in the US Pa­cific North­west, in lo­ca­tions such as Puget Sound, a nu­tri­en­trich in­let of the Pa­cific Ocean and part of the Sal­ish Sea; and Hood Canal, a long thin fjord si­t­u­ated be­tween Puget Sound and the Olympic Moun­tains. Ex­am­ples of oys­ters pro­duced in this re­gion in­clude the sweet, plump Sea Cow oys­ters pro­cured by Hama Hama Farm and Chelsea Farm’s Chelsea Gems, prized for their sweet, but­tery taste.


In the Marennes Oléron basin, farm­ers raise Pa­cific oys­ters in the French At­lantic Coast. The oys­ters are fin­ished or cul­tured in kneedeep clay basins called ‘claires’. The oys­ters they yield are cer­ti­fied Fine de Claire IGP (In­di­ca­tion Géo­graphique Protégée), Fine de Claire Verte Red La­bel, Spe­ciales de Claire IGP, and Pousse en Claire Red La­bel.

Fine de Claires are fin­ished in claires for at least 28 days. Only up to three kilo­grams of oys­ters are al­lowed to in­habit per square me­tre of the claire. Thomas Troussereau of Clair At­lantic, an oys­ter pur­veyor fo­cus­ing on French and Ir­ish oys­ters, says, “It is dur­ing this process that the claires of the Marennes Oléron basin im­part the sub­tleties of re­gional flavours. It is for those who pre­fer a less fleshy oys­ter that is rich in wa­ter and bal­anced in flavour.” Fine de Claire Vertes are green­ish in colour be­cause of a mi­cro al­gae called nav­icu­lus present in the claires. Fil­tered by the oys­ter, it re­tains a pig­ment called maren­nine. The Red La­bel seal th­ese oys­ters are given de­notes their highly reg­u­lated qual­ity.

Spe­ciales de Claire on the other hand, are se­lected by the pro­ducer be­fore fin­ish­ing based on their reg­u­lar shape, round­ness and depth—the more deeply con­cave the shell is, the larger the quan­tity of flesh within. They are typ­i­cally fin­ished in less densely packed claires for more than two months. “The Spe­cial de Claire is dis­tinct from the Fine de Claire by a firmer tex­tured, meatier flesh and a re­mark­able bal­ance of sweet­ness and salt,” Troussereau ex­plains. Lastly, ex­tremely rare Pousse en Claires, also as­signed the Red La­bel seal, are cul­tured in claires for at least four to five months. They are given plenty of space in the claires with only five shells at most per square me­tre. Care­fully hand-treated from start to end, the oys­ters are firm, sweet and have a long fin­ish.

In con­trast, some pro­duc­ers like the famed Gil­lardeau fam­ily raise Spe­ciales in Nor­mandy or Ire­land for a good two years be­fore bring­ing them back to fin­ish in claires. This yields the nutty, fleshy, suc­cu­lent Gil­lardeau oys­ters that restau­ra­teurs love.

Based on the weight and di­men­sions of the shell, the French clas­sify their oys­ters from 0 to 5, with 0 be­ing the largest.

Sin­ga­pore In­ci­den­tally, some Pa­cific oys­ters are farmed in Sin­ga­pore too. In the waters op­po­site Pu­lau Ubin’s Ma­mam Beach, Sea­farm­ers@Ubin grows oys­ters in cages sus­pended from their ke­long. The fresh and suc­cu­lent oys­ters come in three sizes rang­ing from their sweet and small Sweet­heart, which are around seven cen­time­tres in length, to their largest meaty, briny Jumbo which can grow up to around 12 cen­time­tres in length.


This is a species of oys­ter na­tive to the Eastern seaboard of North Amer­ica and the Gulf of Mex­ico. Th­ese oys­ters are typ­i­cally tear-drop shaped with a flat top and U-shaped bot­tom. Some com­mon ones are earthy, briny Blue­points from Long Is­land South and the briny, sea­weedy Wellfleets from Mas­sachusetts. In Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, Vir­ginia, Rap­pa­han­nock River Oys­ters grows their oys­ters from wild brood­stock in cages sus­pended about 15 cen­time­tres off the bot­tom of the sea.

Co-founder Travis Crox­ton says, “This, cou­pled with our hus­bandry prac­tices of bring­ing them onto our dock for a good tum­bling, cre­ate a deeper cup and fuller meat. It also re­moves the earthy, muddy flavour that you may get with wild oys­ters be­cause, frankly, they’re suck­ing in muddy, heav­ily sed­i­mented wa­ter as they fil­ter feed, ver­sus sed­i­ment-free wa­ter a few inches above the bot­tom.” KUMAMOTO OYS­TERS (CRASSOSTREA SIKAMEA)

Th­ese oys­ters are na­tive to Kumamoto pre­fec­ture in Kyushu, Ja­pan, but are now grown on the US West Coast at lo­ca­tions like Chap­man Cove, Puget Sound, Washington and Hum­boldt Bay, Cal­i­for­nia. They are typ­i­cally smaller in size, deep-cupped and have a fruity, mel­ony fin­ish.



Re­ferred to fondly as ‘Olys’, th­ese small, round oys­ters are na­tive to the West Coast of the US. Now found only in the Olympia re­gion in the Pa­cific North­west, specif­i­cally the Tot­ten and Lit­tle Skookum in­lets near Hood Canal, th­ese oys­ters have a sweet and cop­pery flavour.


This is the na­tive Euro­pean oys­ter species that is in­creas­ingly rare as they are ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to farm. In France, a good ex­am­ple of th­ese are the Belons grown in Brittany, France (also grown in Maine, US), which are known for their suc­cu­lence and strong briny taste with a metal­lic, cop­per fin­ish. Other prized spec­i­mens are the Lim­fjord Oys­ter from Den­mark, with flat, round shells and firm flesh; and the Kelly Na­tive from Gal­way Bay, Ire­land.


Farmed in the East Coast of Aus­tralia, th­ese oys­ters have a rich savoury flavour and hints of min­eral and herb notes.


Be­low Tide tum­bling at Hama Hama Oys­ter Com­pany's tum­ble farm


page db Bistro & Oys­ter Bar's lus­cious oys­ters

Above Oys­ter ga­lore at Green­wood Fish Mar­ket & Bistro

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