A few weeks ago, at the start of September, I hit up a favorite
little oyster bar back in D.C. only to be served a dozen that bathed in
opaque milky liquor. Milky oysters aren't a sign that they're bad, but
it is a sign they're spawning: a sure bet they'll be thin and flaccid,
their flavor diminished. Since they were less-than-ideal, I sent them back.
Oyster season is one I adhere to religiously, despite
that they're safe to eat year-round. The old rule dictated that the season resides in months that end in r. With the introduction of nonspawning oysters, that rule has
gone by the wayside.
Yet according to Ryan and Travis Croxton, cousins behind Rappahannock River Oyster
Co. in the Chesapeake Bay, sticking to the old rule of seasonality is as much about the transporting of
oysters: moving crustaceans from warm waters to a cold fridge induces
stress, which also affects flavor, making them less plump and sweet.
Which is one reason why Longboards in West Palm doesn't yet stock
bivalves from the Gulf. "It's too warm to harvest them yet," said my
bartender. "We don't trust them yet."
This past Sunday night, I waited at the bar at Longboards as I watched a shucker open Prince Edward Island sweet Malpeques, Massachusetts
salty Wellfleets, and fruity Kumamotos from Northern California for my order. At $2.50 a piece -- 50 cents more than any place I'd get them
back in D.C. -- I was hoping Longboards' stock would be delightful.
And it was. A mixed dozen from cold waters smelled of the sea and basked in clear liquor elixir and a hit of lemon.
As the temperature cools up north and the oyster season progresses, I'm
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looking forward to expanding my repertoire of bivalves and places to eat
them. Any suggestions for places to try?