Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We Long For Oysters!

Next up in the Guest Blogger line-up is my good friend Tim who truly, truly knows how to indulge his senses.  He has an excellent blog that covers wine, beer, organic gardening, cooking and so much more.  He contributed this post, not realizing that our oyster season hasn't started yet and may not be quite right for a while (thanks a lot BP!) but we won't hold it against him.  We'll just have to have him ship us a few cases of those Kumamotos if the longing gets to strong.  Some of that stout too, while he's at it!  Mmm, oysters...   

Hey everybody. I’m Tim, guest blogging here today. I’m a writer/blogger living near Vancouver Canada. I work in the wine industry and spend a lot of time travelling, eating, drinking, cooking and above all, making/producing my own comestibles, including making most stuff from scratch, curing my own meats, making cheese, and growing an organic garden. I most especially focus on anything that will ferment, including making wine, beer, sauerkraut, Kim chi, pickles et al. If you ferment it, they will come, and ask for a serving.

I’ve only been to New Orleans once (so far), so I’m not qualified to talk about local cuisine (although if you want to know how to get in trouble in the French Quarter at 3 am, I’m your man). In fact, most Canadians lack proper context to talk about US Southern food—with a straight face, most of us will call grilled meat ‘barbecue’ (I know, I know) tea is drank hot with milk and sugar, where I live ‘the Gulf’ is a strait between Vancouver Island and the Pacific coast of British Columbia and if you have white powder under your nose nobody thinks ‘beignet’.

But food is the universal language. In New Orleans, like every other place I’ve visited, I felt most welcome and at peace when I was elbow-to-elbow with other hungry strangers at a counter that served well prepared and well respected food that reflected the sensibility and character of the city and its people. I once heard of New Orleans that for the natives, the major topics of conversation when you go out to eat are restaurant meals that you have had in the past and restaurant meals that you plan to have in the future. Now that’s a place where I feel at home!

I’ve actually been meaning to contribute to NOJuju for quite a while. One of the early blogs asked ‘What are the oysters like in your neck of the woods and how do you like to eat them?’ I’m the Glutton King of oysters. My all-time favourite birthday meal is six or seven dozen oysters and a half-keg of Stout, and I’ve never said no to a bivalve mollusc.

But oysters are different around here. The gulf oysters I’ve had were big, soft and very sweet. I enjoyed them raw, but saw more potential in them cooked. At home I’ve almost never eaten them anything but raw. I generally get my oysters from the Lobsterman in the Granville Island Market . Visiting Vancouver means you have to go to the market. To miss it would be to go to New Orleans and skip the French Quarter. It’s one of those places with gorgeous, exotic, intensely desirable and tasty stuff, from a soup joint that could make you cry with the happy, to a cheese monger who can not only spell Époisses, but also can sell it. It’s a wonderful place.

The Lobsterman specialises in crabs, lobsters, clams, mussels, bits of fish, but mainly (for me) Pacific Northwest oysters. Local oysters are all from very cold, deep water. This gives many of them a much firmer, dense meat. They also tend to be quite briny—not so much salty, as having a resonant note of minerals that can make the right wine (or beer) sing out like a chorus line all on its own. Some are named after the bays and inlets where they’re gathered from: Fanny Bay, Mary Point, and others the species, like Royal Miyagi,Kumamoto, and Kusshi.

The flavours of each variety vary widely, partly from the terroir (hmm. Oceanoir?) of where they’re harvested from, partly from species character. Fanny Bay are very mild with just a hint of creaminess in with the brine. Mary Points are quite small, have a creamy texture, sometimes almost like clotted cream and are delicately salty. Kumamoto are buttery, and have the most amazing aftertaste of melon. Some folks say watermelon, but I’ve never gotten beyond, ‘Holy Hannah! It tastes like melon!’ Miyagis are less buttery and more firm—not rubbery, but definitely with more tooth—and have the most amazing note of cucumber to them. Kusshis are sweet and buttery and mild.

My favourite way to eat ersters is the simplest: squeeze of fresh lemon and a dot or two of hot sauce. I favour habanero-based sauces because along with the heat, which I adore, they bring a lovely fruitiness that seems to work so well with a great oyster: Melina’s brand is excellent for most purposes, but I also make my own, for fresh and really hot-hot sauce.

The most important condiment to my taste is the beverage that goes with it. With a briny oyster I like good old stout: Guinness or similar does a great job. With more delicate versions like Kusshis or Miyagis, I like sparkling wine. Bollinger when I can get it, Gloria Ferrer when I can’t, and to cover all my bases I often make Black Velvet cocktails—a mixture of Guinness and sparkling wine that has the charms of both.

Hmm. Looks like I’m stopping at the Lobsterman on my way home, never mind that it’s twenty kilometres in the wrong direction. There’s a scent of brine in the air and a bottle of Bollinger in the cellar with my name on it.


Anonymous,  August 25, 2010 at 10:35 AM  

welcome tim! come on down to new orleans! we have wonderful oysters! the are plump, healthy and delicious! contrary to all the bad press from the oil spill, the seafood in the Gulf has never been tested as thoroughly as it is now. it's very safe and oh, so wonderful! so, come on down!!

Tim August 25, 2010 at 11:00 AM  

Thanks Termite! I'm scheming like crazy to get back to New Orleans asap, not just for the oysters but also for some mudbugs . . . you just can't get them around here.

But I'll be sure to wait for oyster season when I do finally get down there.

Adam Lipscomb August 25, 2010 at 7:47 PM  

Let me know when you're headed down. I know some good Trouble Spots down there, plus some fan-freakin'-tastic places to eat, from lowbrow to highbrow.

And I'll match you mudbug for mudbug.

Tim August 26, 2010 at 11:17 AM  

Adam, I'm scoping for a visit to Texas/South as soon as I can get it. The missus loved our last visit (she obsessively looked at real estate in Austin for months!) and I failed to have a single disappointing meal anywhere we went, and never fussed about brows, high, low or middle.

Of course, I've got some friends down there too!

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