There’s an old rule, where I come from, about the oyster and the months of R. We were told, practically from birth, never to consume an oyster in months that lacked an R (May through August). September to April was a cold, but exceptional time to shuck the mollusk and eat it on the half shell. Oysters Rockefeller comes to mind, and only makes me hungry.
I haven’t eaten lunch today.
Blue Crabs reigned in the summertime, and oysters came in the autumn. I’m happy to have lived somewhere so abundant with marine life. I have an immense appreciation for wildlife conservation, as well as a desperate need to touch the sand, and water.
I used to dig up Atlantic Ribbed Mussels in the Choptank River, curious to see the creatures that made so many bubbles. Those Mussels are incredible filter feeders, capable of filtering the entire river should they please. They kept the water clean. And they were tough, and stringy, but edible.
Note: Should anyone be thinking of trying to collect their own bivalves for consumption, consider that they filter toxins, and clamp shut at low tide with those toxins still inside. Go at high tide, when they’re open and feeding and clean. Stay safe, and clam it up!
Back to the incredible oyster.
There was never a time where the oyster did not touch my life. When I was 8 I sliced my toe open on an oyster shell at Oxford Beach, while my grandfather read his book in a lawn chair on the sand. I remember the familiar sound of tires on an old oyster shell road, before men realized the shells were absolutely vital to the reproduction of the oyster beds they fished. I remember my father getting sick after a long awaited trip to the farmer’s market, ill from sampling too many of the Chincoteague Company’s farm raised raw oysters. Those shells were the size of both my hands laid side by side. I remember telling my father I’d never seen them so big in the wild, and his sigh as he replied, “I remember a time.”
My mother, to this day, does not like seafood. It isn’t uncommon, but it does raise eyebrows at local Eastern shore functions, including family crab picks. She rarely made us seafood, understandably, but we got our fill in other ways.
There was a time when we would dress nicely and drive 30 minutes to Tilghman Island, and enjoy oyster buffet night at Harrison’s restaurant. My grandfather would enjoy his stewed tomatoes, I’d wrinkle my nose at the bowl, and my father would get himself an oyster of just about every which way prepared you can imagine.
Personally, I’ve come to select fried oysters as an all time favorite. Oyster fritters were once a Thanksgiving staple, and remain rare in my diet. Especially now, in Texas.
Frying an oyster gives that brief sense of relief, to know that a majority of bacteria is killed off in the heating process. Raw comes with risk, but to men like my father, it is a risk worth taking. No one should ever ingest preshucked oysters bought in a grocery store, raw. Cook them, or risk illness.
The best oyster I ever ate was raw. I was wearing Muck boots and my brother’s flannel shirt, on a boat north of Smith Island in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. A captain shucked a large oyster and asked who would bravely try. Many of the other passengers, my classmates, pulled away and giggled. I stepped forward, eager for such an opportunity. And my goodness, what a fresh, salty, eye opening opportunity it was! I have never had an oyster quite as good, nor do I think I ever will.
If you’re like my mother, who wrinkles her face up just at the thought of eating “slime”, I don’t blame you. Had I not grown up on the coast, I would probably do the same. But, I am indeed a product of my upbringing, and of my father. We share a similar pallette, I assume.
If you are interested in fried oyster, perhaps for a Superbowl party or just a nice Sunday side dish, I’ll give you a tried and true recipe I have personally fished from the St. Mark’s Cookbook, and personally used. These fritters suit well with a surf and turf meal, especially with chicken or goose. There is also nothing better on this planet than a good oyster fritter sandwich.
I do hope you try, and I do hope you are careful in your frying ventures. Enjoy!
St. Mark’s Cookbook, Page 122 (with my personal revisions)
- 1/2 C. Flour
- 2 tsp. Baking Powder
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
- 2 Eggs, beaten
- 1 pt. Oysters
- Peanut Oil
- Wash and prepare oysters. Pat dry.
- Mix dry ingredients together, and sift them into beaten eggs.
- Beat until smooth.
- Add oysters to mixture, coating thoroughly.
- Heat oil to 350 degrees.
- Drop oysters gently into oil, in batches of 6, for 2 minutes each batch or until golden brown.
- Place on paper towels, pat dry.