I run the Shellfish Club at The Evergreen State College. We are a state-funded shellfish garden in Eld Inlet at the bottom of the Salish Sea (Puget Sound). We're a noncommercial operation, so our thousands of Pacific oysters are for student consumption and academic exploration only. My co-coordinator and I lead students through the woods every two weeks (usually around midnight) to our shellfish garden to shake oyster bags and feast on our EverSweet™oysters. This glorious job gives me unlimited access to the best oysters I've ever tasted (even better than Taylor Shellfish's Shigoku oyster) and that experimenting has brought me one very satisfying recipe: fried oysters.
Emily's Top 10 Reasons to Eat Oysters:
1. Delicious raw.
2. Nutritious (high in protein, iron, omega-3s, calcium, zinc, vitamin C).
3. No feed inputs after larvae stage (so oyster farmers are dependent on good quality water to supply their product with phytoplankton, making oyster farmers some of the most ardent environmentalists).
4. Tasty when fried (and easy to fry).
5. Positive impact on water quality (a single oyster filters 30-50 gallons of water per day).
6. Low maintenance (thousands of oysters can be grown with 15 minutes per week of work).
7. Picking up an oyster directly from the beach, shucking it, and eating it right there (still alive) is the most connected I've ever felt to the earth.
8. Oyster beds are, like a garden, biodiverse spaces for dozens and dozens of different species to congregate.
9. Oysters look like vaginas and vaginas are pretty cool.
10. Oysters have only a rudimentary nervous system and are immobile after the three week larvae stage, making them a viable protein/nutrient source for the vegan-inclined-for-moral-reasons, since they had no evolutionary advantage to developing a pain response. Here's a great blog post about that.
Today we'll talk about frying them, crisp crunchy coating around warm soft salty sweet oyster.
It's easier than you think. All the complicated batter, breadcrumbs, and sauces you've seen at restaurants are unnecessary. They will distract you from the essence of your meal: fresh oysters. All you need to fry the most decadent oysters is: hot grapeseed oil in a pan, a ziplock bag partially filled with flour and spices, and fresh oysters.
To Fry an Oyster:
1. Obtain shelled oysters. Fresh ones. Grow your own. Check out Olympia Seafood Company downtown. Buy some from Evan and John Adams at Sound Fresh Clams & Oysters at the Olympia Farmers Market. Pick up a bowl of geoduck chowder and a couple dozen oysters at Taylor Shellfish's utilitarian storefront in Shelton. Oysters can be stored in the fridge (in a bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel - never underwater) for up to a week, but the flavor will quickly start to deteriorate.
2. Steam those babies. As many of us know, nothing tastes better in a steam room than a cheap can of beer. Oysters feel the same way. Or rather, they taste the same way. I have a small steamer that sits in my stockpot, so I fill water or beer to right below the steamer and bring it to a boil. Fill the pot with shelled oysters, cover, bring liquid to a boil, and steam for 9-14 minutes, or until some of the shells are popping open. The timing is not super important, as we are only steaming the oysters to (a) make the oysters easier to shuck, and (b) firm up the flesh so it will be more turgid when fried.
3. Shuck those babies. Using sturdy gloves (on both hands, as oyster shells and shucking knives are both sharp) and a shucking knife (or a butter knife or whatever you have - I was once spotted on Red Square in an evening gown shucking oysters with a Philips screwdriver), split the oyster shells open from the hinge, scraping the knife along the shell and severing the abductor muscle on either side. Admire the beauty:
4. In a ziplock bag, mix flour, a hefty dose of salt, and whatever spices you'd like. I'm fond of paprika, dill, and garlic powder (but then again, I have a very poor sense of smell/taste and am not a spice-combining-genius, so make up your own combinations!). Drop the shucked, drained oysters into the bag and shake it around until the oysters are all covered in flour.
5. Fry in grapeseed oil on medium-high heat, flipping every few minutes, until golden, crispy, and verging on too-cooked.
6. Eat them on salad or in a sandwich or with friends or alone in your bed. Eat them cold out of a cup while driving. Eat them whenever you need some golden delicious nutrients. Use them as currency: trade them for sauerkraut, leaf lard, trade them for gold.
Wild and cultivated oysters around the world are dying and failing to develop a shell in the larvae stage, because of ocean acidification and our species' folly. The best way to honor them that I have found - beyond fighting for environmental regulations and raising public awareness - is to enjoy them, to share them, and to love them while we still can.
There's a lot of bad food in the world. Let's talk about the good food.