Well, my friends, you may be expecting to peruse a set of crazy pictures of slimy grey creatures…however, my camera remained safely nestled in its case, in my bag, tucked under the cabinet for the duration of LUSH Oyster Fest. Bummer. But, lucky for us, I have very photographic memories to share. And, for all you squeamish folk, no graphic depictions of oysters.
Shhh, I’ll share a …nearly half of the LUSH staff had never consumed an oyster. Ever. Or, as in my case, I have a hazy recollection of trying an oyster smothered in Tabasco in a small Louisiana establishment next to a bayou. But, that doesn’t count. So, I viewed this occasion as a perfect educational opportunity, as well as a gastronomic delight. Mitch, our owner, very much enjoys oysters of all varieties…and since he thoroughly enjoys the tasty creatures, he wanted to do this right and bought an excessive 300 oysters of 5 varieties for the illustrious afternoon, and made a phenomenal mignonette with 3 vinegars and shallots, he also made a cocktail sauce, sliced a giant bowl of lemons, and brought Tabasco as condiments for the oysters. Here are the down and dirty details…
Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia ~ These East Coast oysters were rather large and a very deep, firm sandy color. My first Tatamagouche smelled like a cow pie and tasted the same…I think it was an angry oyster. The remainder were earthy, but not quite so funky as that, with a nice briny, nutty flavor. I enjoyed these with Mitch’s mignonette.
Hyde Point, Prince Edward Island ~ These skinny East Coast oysters are dark gray and very firm. They were just salty enough, clear and clean, with a sweet finish.
Cortez Island , Northern Cortez Island, BC, Canada ~ One of the few West Coast varieties, the Cortez Island oysters were fairly small and compact. They were salty and sweet, with a fruity, sometimes floral finish. Among my favorites of the afternoon, these were lovely alone or with a small squeeze of lemon.
Kumamoto, Puget Sound, Washington ~ Tiny, with a pretty iridescent shell, these were my absolute favorites. Pale and cream colored, these oystes were extremely creamy and fruity in flavor, with a hint of nuttiness and just a touch of salt. These were the perfect little bite. And, they have quite the history…google them to get in on the sordid, mysterious past.
Virginicas, Totten Inlet ~ These are well traveled, as they were born on the east coast, but then take flight and grow to maturity on the west coast! So, the Virginicas are quite large and a lovely creamy gray color. They are plump, sweet, and finish with a gorgeous minerality. By far, these were the favorite of the afternoon.
Kristin, the most recent addition to the Lush staff, has a very handy background in culinary arts, and is a super oyster shucker. The shells were flying and dozens of oysters were handed out in quick progression. She tutored each guest in the variety and location of each oyster. Good work, kid!
Lance was quite the debonair gentleman, approaching the oysters and quickly learning to shuck and how to properly consume them…but I was not fooled…he was learning to pop these babies open all on his own so that he could sneak over and suck it down real quick with no one noticing. But, then he did the Lance happy dance and purred a little satisfied ‘mmmm’…it was a dead giveaway. So, his first oyster experience was an enjoyable one.
Erin was the first Lush forced to slurp her very first oyster. The curiosity and willingness were there, but there was definitely a squeamish factor…and Mitch encouraged her to get over it and eat the biggest of the bunch, a Virginica. With a bit of squealing, Erin took it down…and then asked for another.
When Jane arrived, she gave the oysters a bit of distance and worked up some courage to try them. She was not a fan of the texture. We didn’t get her to eat another…even with the 1983 Diebolt Champagne was sabered and poured out. But, no worries…we are not all oyster lovers.
Mitch and his family were huge oyster eaters. Mr. and Mrs. William ‘Duke’ Einhorn were in attendance, as was Cliff, our co-owner, and Mitch’s wife, Berta. Simone and Margaux also popped in to visit, but did not care for the oysters. Very objectively, they watched the process, smelled the oysters, and told us all that they were ‘icky’. Adam Seger, of Nacional 27, and friends stopped by and brought tasty treats of small samples of home-brewed proprietary beverages for us to geek out about. This was one fun crowd.
Mrs. Flynn brought Colyn by to eat oysters and buy wine. Did I mention we only let Colyn work at Lush because we LOVE his mom? Well, I am kidding, of course. We also very much enjoy Colyn. But his mom is rocking. Hi, Mrs. Flynn! (Next time y’all catch Colyn at the Halsted shop, ask him about his trip to Spain and the amazing trip to the Priorat and his full day with the winemakers at Odysseus!)
We also had local wine and oyster enthusiasts drop by for the afternoon, along with the owners of Morgan’s Bar. Lively conversation and oyster friendly wines and beer made for a good, soothing atmosphere after the Bears game. We poured a Muscadet, a white Bordeaux, amazing vintage Champagne, an Italian Gavi, and also a Trippel Belgian and the Three Floyds Milk Stout. Ah man, these wines and brews stepped up and performed. The Champagne was beautiful and everyone wanted more…the Muscadet was by far the best pairing amongst the wines, as it just shone brilliantly on Sunday afternoon, and the beers were remarkably well received as oyster pairings.
I approached the oysters more as a student…I tasted each in progression, alone and with condiments and paired with different wines. The texture is kinda freaky, and I am always wary of salty foods, but eating oysters is really fun. And, I learned a lot.
Discovery Channel moment, I will mention oyster sex and use reproductive terms…oysters are hermaphrodites until spawning season and then they ‘choose’ a gender and either produce eggs or sperm. In the given area, the number of ‘female’ and ‘male’ oysters even out naturally through some natural process…probably chemical. And then, spontaneously and all at the same simultaneous moment, the eggs and sperm are released into the ocean. When they meet, which is a tough thing to do out there in the ocean, a baby oyster is born! Well, the baby oyster is just a brown dot at this point, and it floats with the algae for a while until it is big enough to travel through the ocean to the bottom. Here, the baby oyster finds its home, usually a rock or other solid foundation, and stays. Oysters can live up to 30 years…so the ones we eat range between 8 months old (those are the impatient quick growers) up to 3 years (the minimum for Kumamotos at harvesting time) and older.
Also, you eat oysters live. It is yucky to eat a dead oyster and it may make you ill. Basically, you want to pry open the shell and may even hear a pop…and then there should be a plump, moist oyster sitting in its own juice, or ‘liquerer’. If it is dry or shriveled, do not eat it. Ew. The oysters should be kept at super chilly temperatures and stored on ice when served. Consumption should happen immediately after the oyster is opened. If it smells weird, don’t eat it. If it is warm, don’t eat it. Be very picky about your oysters. They can be extremely tasty and a very novel experience. Yum!
I do believe that I have exhausted my arsenal of words about oysters, but please feel free to continue this discussion any time, and please do join us for our next event! Cheers!