Oyster Love

While you brace for yourself for another February day on PEI don’t resent all those folks who leave as soon as the weather turns. Instead, warm yourself inside with the knowledge that oysters taste best in the months with an “r” in their name.

Just as fine wines are determined by ‘terroir’ – the relationship of land, sun, and unique geographical elements – our Island has the right ‘mer-oir’ to produce some of the world’s finest tasting oysters. Each locale offers up its own distinctive flavor and personality, with the most delicious coming from areas where rivers, algae, sea, and sun (or lack of it) all mingle in just the right balance. And as a special reward to those of us who stay year round, they taste even better when it’s cold.

Oysters have a reputation for being an aphrodisiac, due to their high zinc content. And yes, zinc is linked to healthy libido, but also to boosting immunity and bone health. Oysters are also a great source of sustainably farmed protein, vitamins C and B12 and the minerals selenium and iron.

The lift of energy you get from eating oysters is immediately palpable, especially if you are tired. In Traditional Chinese Medicine this mollusk is considered nourishing to the yin aspect of the kidneys, benefiting fertility, menopausal symptoms, excessive sweating and nocturnal emissions.

But nothing good ever comes easy. Shucking is a skill unto itself and can be an intimidating deterrent to getting your hands on this perfect antidote to the winter blahs. Luckily our great ‘mer-oir’ has also produced a population of oyster shucking heroes who can help pry them loose and guide your exploration through the nuances of regional flavor.

According to chef Robert Pendergast, who specializes in shucking at catered events, oysters peak in deliciousness during November and December. The best tasting oyster he’s ever had in mid-winter came from the Five Star Shellfish producers of Milligan’s Wharf.

At present, I’m partial to Colville Bay oysters from Souris. Their flavor is rich and sophisticated with a sweet, yeasty finish. For the connoisseur, Steve Knectal serves them straight up at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market.

Raspberry Point Oysters provide a clean, even taste that will always please a crowd. And while I haven’t yet tried the Cascumpec Bay product from Ellerslie, two shuckers I spoke to said they are the “best on the Island.”

If you are bivalve curious, but still a bit freaked out, I suggest you visit Tyler Gallant of Gallant’s Seafood at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market and ask him to shuck you one of George Dowdle’s oysters from New London. It’s a good oyster for beginners because the flavor is light, wet and easy on the salt. Plus, Gallant will provide you with yummy sauces or garnishes to help it go down.

Of course, with any shellfish, one has to be vigilant and on the lookout for those unsuitable for consumption. If the shell pries open too easily, doesn’t smell like sea air or just gives your gut a feeling of doubt, don’t eat it. What is wonderful about living on the Island is our oysters are as fresh as you can get and you can really get to know the land and sea that surround your oyster of choice, as well as the producer and their practices.

To take your oyster tasting to the next level, try pairing with Deep Roots Distillery’s local Absinthe or Upstreet Craft Brewing’s smoked porter. The bliss induced will temporarily transport you to other realms. It’s February, but we still live in one of the best places in the world.

About Harmony Wagner

Harmony Wagner began training with the North American Tang Shou Tao Association and her teacher Vince Black in 1996. She underwent a formal apprenticeship with the Four Winds Health Center and was licensed as a Registered Acupuncturist through the CTCMA of British Columbia in 2001. She practices Traditional Chinese Medicine and teaches NATSTA gongfu and qigong in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada.

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