I remember the first time I saw the Island Creek Oyster boys. It was at black-tie affair and I was feeling rather out of place. But there, in the corner, were a trio of tanned, scruffy guys, who had obviously tried to clean themselves up for the night. They were standing behind a wooden boat, full of ice and topped with glistening oysters. I made my way over to the oyster boat and struck up a conversation–these were my kind people. As they told me about their oysters and their Duxbury farm, I tried my first Island Creek Oyster, and I was hooked. And not just because of those smiling, fun guys (I swear!)–it turns out their oysters were incredible.
Since that fateful night, I have paid attention to them as they have earned regional–and now national–fame, with those oysters showing up on the menus of the best restaurants in Boston and around the country. I even brag about these oysters to my out-of-town friends, despite the fact that I have had nothing to do with them except eating them.
Erin Byers Murray, however, actually does have bragging rights when it comes to these oysters. In 2009, Erin took the big leap (one that many of us desk-junkies dream about) and quit her big-city job. In one swoop, she traded in her heels for a pair of wellies and waterproof waders. She started her new job by freezing her butt off culling (sorting) oysters in the raw New England spring and went on to do the backbreaking work of digging oysters from “the lease” when the tide was out, and nursing 5 million oysters from the time they were little specks until they were viable, sizeable oysters. It is hard, hard work to grow impeccable oysters.
While Erin tried as hard as she could NOT to glamorize her time spent on the farm (oyster poop, anyone?), I found myself yearning to jump right into the pages of the book as I read. The deeper I fell into Shucked, the more I could taste the briny sweetness of the Island Creeks that I have come to love. I was fascinated to learn more about what Island Creek head honcho Skip Bennett calls merroir–the sea-side version of the term terroir, often used to describe wine, meaning that foodstuffs take on the very specific flavor the place where they are grown. Island Creeks taste the way they do because of the big tides, salinity, and temperatures of Duxbury Bay.
One of the reasons why Erin left her comfortable life and jumped onto the floating “oyster-plex” was to learn more about where her food came from. She wanted a stronger connection to her food and to see more than the perfectly presented oyster on a half shell she was accustomed to ordering at restaurants around the city. She, in turn, has done all of us a great service, giving us an insider’s look at how our beloved oysters get on our plates. It may be a small step, but in reading Shucked, I have become convinced that I need to learn how to shuck oysters. How amazing would it be to show up at a party with a bag of Island Creeks, providing your friends and family with a plate full of super-fresh oysters?
This holiday season, here is the recipe for the world’s most perfect gift: a great oyster shucking knife, a bag of Island Creek oysters, and a copy of Shucked–after all, in order to truly appreciate your bivalves, you need to understand all the effort that goes into making them so perfect. (Plus, the book contains several great recipes and oyster tips, which will come in handy as you become a master shucker). Here is perhaps one of the most important excerpts from the book:
How to Shuck An Oyster, from Shucked: Life on a New England Oyster Farm
The trick: don’t use force, use finesse.
- First, find a really good shucking knife. Island Creek uses a French brand called Deglon, which is what I learned to shuck with and will never go back. With its super-sharp blade and plastic handle, it’s sturdy and works efficiently.
- Put on a glove or wrap a thick towel around your hand before you grab your oyster.
- Place the oyster cup, or rounded side, down on a flat surface, using your gloved hand to hold it in place.
- Holding the knife horizontally, place the tip into the hinge (the pointed tip of the oyster) at a forty-five-degree angle. Carefully jimmy the knife into the hinge using just a little bit of pressure, twisting the knife a few times to release the hinge. You’ll feel the top shell pop slightly once you’ve released it.
- Once the top shell pops, turn the blade of the knife toward you so that it’s now vertical–this twist will separate the two shells. Then, holding the oyster in your gloved hand, slide the knife horizontally against the inside of the top shell to sever the adductor meat from the shell. Remove the top shell completely.
- Slide the knife underneath the meat inside the cupped shell to released the second adductor muscle.
- Slurp it straight from the shell.
Got all that? No? Then you should probably make your way to the Eat Boutique Local Holiday Market this Saturday to get an up-close-and-personal demonstration from the Island Creek team themselves. They will be there from 12-4pm, shucking and selling their oysters. And if you’d like to keep the shucking to the experts, visit Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston’s Kenmore Square.
Erin will be at the Eat Boutique Local Market too, signing Shucked, Life on a New England Oyster Farm from 12-1pm. Come on by and say hello, and ask her about her life post-oyster farm.
For more on Erin, Shucked and Island Creek Oysters, see the following:
- Oysters: An Odyssey, Food & Wine
- Talking Oysters with Erin Byers Murray, Bon Appetit
- Erin’s Shucked blog
Photos appear courtesy of Erin Byers Murray and Island Creek Oysters.
Eat Boutique is an online magazine + market for food enthusiasts to celebrate the best pure, local + comforting handmade foods. We call it: food that hugs you back. Looking for the perfect gift? Eat Boutique sells gift boxes filled with handmade sweet and savory treats. Send a gift box of handmade food today.
Did you know we’re hosting our Holiday Local Market on December 10, 2011 in Boston? Meet, taste and shop for holiday gifts!