Aw Shucks: Yes, these were the actual New York State oysters captured (and consumed) by the staff of Edible Manhattan.
If you’d been missing us this week, that’s because over the past few days the editors of Edible Manhattan, Edible Brooklyn and Edible East End were out in the quiet villages of Long Island’s South Fork. That’s where our publishers Stephen Munshin and Brian Halweil–yep, we’re all related, at least editorially–spend most of their time. (Edible East End, in case you didn’t know, was actually one of the inaugural Edibles.) Our goal for the get-together, other than eating every 1.3 hours, that is, was to think upon our plans for 2010.
Those are pretty exciting for food nerds such as ourselves, and while I won’t give away any Edible Secrets, I am looking forward to more in-depth photo essays, more visits into hidden home kitchens, more profiles of unsung city purveyors, more peeks into far-flung food factories and of course, our UnCorked shindig in May and our Good Beer event in September, plus what has to be the coolest food trivia quiz night ever created. (We’ll keep you posted.) But for this city slicker, what had to be the most transcendent moment on the editorial agenda was the field trip right into the bay itself.
That’s when Stephen showed us how to rake for oysters in the cold, cold waters off the bay as the sun set on the Fork. So we donned our borrowed waders and our long plastic gloves and warm sweaters and waddled in, toting our wooden-handled rakes as we went. With that in hand, you scratch along at the sand till you come up with a clutch of shells. (In theory: In the 20 minutes or so we went oystering, he got two dozen, while I scored four.)
Now we’ve written about the city history of oysters before. They used to be everywhere and nearly free, as my Boro Foodshed piece in the winter 2008 issue of Edible Brooklyn will tell you. And in Edible Manhattan, Brian has told the story of those who bring those oysters in from Long Island to the city. In Edible East End, meanwhile, oyster-friendly author Rowan Jacobsen supplied the master list of New York State oysters to know, along with a little on their history and production. Thus we were all at least aware that raking oysters the way we were doing is really old-school. We just didn’t know how hard it actually was to snag even a dozen the DIY way. In fact, Blue Moon (look for them at Union Square on Sats) is one of just a handful of fishmongers that still harvest by hand.
For decades, thanks to over-harvesting and declining natural oyster beds, most oyster-folk are now farming their shellfish–some dredge with large boats for their haul, but more and more often they’re growing the babies (called spat) in hanging beds or pouches they can just pull in to shore when it’s time to harvest. (Don’t worry: It’s actually good for the environment since the oysters filter the water, and the flavor is just the same as if they’d grown there naturally.)
But if you live out on the South Fork of Long Island and know what’s good for you–and what’s good tasting–getting out there with rake is what you do. So we did. And we ate them within minutes of wader-removal, thanks to Stephen’s shucking skills. Now all East Coast oysters, whether they’re from New Orleans or New England, are Crassostrea virginica, and any difference in flavor comes from what’s in the waters where they live. (We like to call that “marroir,” hee hee.) These particular C. virginica were literally the freshest I’d ever had. A little sandy and still cold as hell, thanks to the icy-topped waters from which they were so recently plucked, but deliciously salty, minerally, maybe a tiny bit sweet … and oh yes, totally free. And that, Edible readers, is about as close to perfection as an oyster–and an editorial meeting–can get.