Meet the New Kid

 Jessica and her fiance Ian

Jessica and her fiance Ian

Jessica grew up in the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico, playing year round golf.  It wasn’t until adulthood that she moved out east can dove head first into the world of seafood, and has been treading water ever sense. 


When was your first interest in oysters?

My father always loved oysters, and said they wiggled on the way down,  with that riveting description what kid wouldn’t want some!  I like anything that wiggles, like oysters and my dogs butt when I get home at the end of the day.

What were you doing a year ago?

Working in the Boston restaurant scene, slinging pasta and taking names, and learning all about Italian wine.

What is your favorite oyster right now?

I’m not picky I like them all, but anything from Maine makes me extra happy.

What is your beverage of choice?

Wine, any wine, but the funkier the better

If you had one super power, what would it be?

Easy, freezing time.  I love extra sleep so I would mostly just use it for procrastination…….. and mischief (shifty eyed emoji).

What are you listening to right now?

I’m terrible with music I’m more of a Howard Stern listener.  But there is a cover of Wicked Games that gets me moving when I hear it. 

Shucking Gear and the Styles that Inspired Them

by Bekah Angoff

Since the evolution of humans, our lives have revolved around tools being the essential part of survival. From rocks used to spark fires and sharpened sticks for hunting to smartphones for dating, humans rely on specialized tools for everything. Praise be the first human to use one of these tools to eat the first oyster! The guess is that it was just a rock used to smash some shells on the beach, but anything beats not having an oyster at all.

 One of the earliest produced knives from Crisfield, Maryland dating back to the early 1900s, MADE of iron.  Photo: national museum of american history

One of the earliest produced knives from Crisfield, Maryland dating back to the early 1900s, MADE of iron.
Photo: national museum of american history

Fast forward to the oyster revolution in the Chesapeake where fleets of boats guarded their bounty until reaching the shores. Teams of men would anxiously wait with their shanks at the ready to shuck every last morsel for sale. Shanks? Yes, shanks. The early oyster knives were made from iron rods with one blunt end and one tapered end. The blunt end was used to break up the clusters of shells (a method called 'cracking') and the tapered end was used to pry open each shell. Once opened, the crews of shuckers would pour the meats into metal buckets to be sold at the local markets.

 A shucker at HIlton's making fast work of the oysters in the hopper above using a knife with a straight thick blade.  photo: Coast seafoods company

A shucker at HIlton's making fast work of the oysters in the hopper above using a knife with a straight thick blade.
photo: Coast seafoods company

 

Technology has come a long way, but basic oyster shucking remains a constant. There has been no machine that can delicately pry open a bivalve the way that human hands and a knife can. Our shucked oysters from Willapa Bay, Washington are still shucked the same way they have been doing it for eons – by hand. The facilities are built to have shucking lines framed by large hoppers of oysters. The oysters are fed through the top down to the shucking bench where they are opened and placed in containers to be packed in individual containers. Each shucker has their own method of opening the oysters, but the most common is to go in through the hinge where the top and bottom shell meet in a point. Once opened, the shuckers transfer the meats and liquor into containers to be packed for sale. There is not a more efficient way to have a pristine product without human shuckers.

Since humans are the most efficient oyster openers all over the world, styles of shucking and knife shapes change regionally. Knives forged in various oyster-heavy pockets of the world tend to have their gear named after them, such as Damariscotta, New Haven, Seattle, Charleston, Boston and the list goes on. One of the oldest styles of modern knives comes from the Chesapeake and is lovingly referred to as a "stabber”, meaning the blade is straight and sharp. The handle, whether made of plastic or wood, is shaped like a bulb to allow for various angles of attack on a strong oyster straight from the bay. Nationally ranked and second-generation oyster shucker Gardner Douglas, son of Sam Sam the Shucking Man, prefers this type of knife as it is the same one his father used.

The first style of shucking these wild harvested Chesapeake oysters was hinging.  This is a style where your knife finds the sweet spot in the back of the oysters between the bivalve shells.  Once you unlock the oyster from the back and hear that unmistakable pop, you create just enough spacing for your knife to slide down and disconnect that adductor muscle.  From here your top shell should be off and reminisce of oyster juice glistening off of it.  After turning the oyster around to you so you will have the adductor facing you now for an easy swipe to disconnect and start the process all over again.  For this style of shucking I like to use an oyster shucker with a sturdy long blade and for the handle to be rounded similar to an egg almost.  For some reason this style knife is perfect for my hand in comparison to a long or short handle knife.

 Nationally Ranked Oyster Shucker Gardner Douglas  photo: the lady oyster

Nationally Ranked Oyster Shucker Gardner Douglas
photo: the lady oyster

Gardner referred to ‘hinging’ as a method of shucking, also known as "butt shucking". This is the most common way to open oysters by placing the knife at the bottom point and using leverage to pry the shells apart. Most knives are designed around this style and then modified for the size and shape of the oyster as well as if you shuck on a table or in your hand.

 Another way of shucking that is popular down in the Mid-Atlantic and down through the Gulf is stabbing where the same style of knife is used but that blade has some give to it along with a sharper point.

 A few of gardner's knives  Photo: Garnder Douglas

A few of gardner's knives
Photo: Garnder Douglas


The process for stabbing is easy. Place the blade of the knife on the point where new growth meets hard shell.  This is the sweet spot for stabbing and once you’re in you want to glide the knife on the bottom of the shell until you meet the adductor muscle.  Once you hit the adductor muscle you will know it for sure and sometimes there will even be a bubble or growth that meets your knife.  This is the best reason why you should use leverage instead of power which is another lesson from the famous Sam Sam.  This is the sole reason I believe I haven’t stabbed myself a lot in comparison to other shuckers I speak with. 

Here in New England, the most commonly used knife is the New Haven (found at myoysterknife.com) which has a wider blade and a slightly bent tip. Cold water oysters tend to be a bit older than their Southern counterparts and have rigid and tight hinges. The curved tip gives added leverage to the opening process making clean work of popping the hinge. This style knife is best for a shucking on a table and perfect for a novice shucker. Check out the video below of the New Haven in action.

Our take on simple shucking on a table using a New Haven style knife.

 Dune by Deglon

Dune by Deglon

In the end, it all comes down to comfort. Once you bust into a few oysters, you will get the feel of the style that suits you best. For me, I choose to go in through the hinge while holding it in my hand, as I find I have the most control and leverage and it causes the least amount of stress to the precious meat inside. I have used all styles of knives, but when I found the one that worked for me it was like Harry Potter finding his wand (complete with and epic wind burst and a golden aura). My preferred knife (shown here) has a short yet strong pointed blade with no curvature to the tip. The handle may look bulky, but the offset nature is a perfect grip for my small hands. The tip is just thin enough the rest comfortably in the hinge of most oysters (both east and west), and the handle's shape gives enough leverage to make fast work of it all. 

It all comes down to preference. Start simple to get your shucking down, and then experiment to find your favored knife. There is no better way to shuck than by human hands.

#shuckmoreoysters

 

A special thanks to Alicia Risch of Coast Seafoods and Gardner Douglas for sharing their stories.

Jonah Crab Claws with Green Garlic Oil

 look for Green garlic at our local farmers market. Choose bunches that have tender bulbs and firm stalks

look for Green garlic at our local farmers market. Choose bunches that have tender bulbs and firm stalks

Summertime and the crabbin' is easy! Bekah made some sauces to accompany our crab claws that inclused a mustard aioli, classic cocktail sauce, rhubarb cocktail sauce, and a green garlic oil. It was a unanimous vote among us that the oil was light and refreshing and a perfect addition to our newest product. It is easy to prepare and the perfect accompaniment the the sweet and delicate meat of the crab.

2# Cap off Jonah Crab Claws, thawed

2 Stalks green garlic, light green parts only; minced
1T Fresh ginger; minced
1T Shallot; minced
4 Thai chilis; sliced thinly with seeds removed
1 medium lemon; zest and juice
Olive Oil (the fruitier the better)
Salt

Combine all of the ingredients except for the olive oil and the salt in a bowl and mix. Sprinkle with salt and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Mix once again and then pour just enough olive oil to cover. Transfer to an airtight container if not using right away. The mixture will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Green Garlic.jpg

Oyster Shucking Competitions

by Bekah Angoff

It’s part brute force and part ballet mixed with some secret agent type stuff. 

Where there is craft, there is competition, as there is someone who is always better, stronger and faster. Oyster shucking is no different, as speed is often the game. If you have ever sat at an oyster counter with someone shucking live, you have the pleasure of watching up close how quickly the shucker pries open each shell, cleans the meat and presents them on a bed of ice. It’s part brute force and part ballet mixed with some secret agent type stuff (complete with utility belt).  Now, let’s take that careful choreography, pair it with other shuckers and time the whole thing. Let the games begin!

There are competitions all over the globe happening at every place from an afternoon on the beach to large scale oyster festivals or celebrations and every challenge is different. After copious amounts of research and talking to some of the pros, here are some general guidelines for an oyster shucking competition:

 Nationals take place every year  in Leonardtown, Maryland

Nationals take place every year  in Leonardtown, Maryland

  • You will be given a number of oysters to review before the contest starts, allowing you inspect the oysters for any that may be hollow or dead or less than favorably shaped for speed’s sake. The number of oysters shucked changes from even to event, ranging from about 18 to 30 per contest, and can be more than one species.
  • The oysters will usually be provided by the local sponsoring entity (ie: Standish Shore oysters used at the Seafood Expo North America oyster shucking competition)
  • Your oyster knife or knives will be approved by the judges, making sure that you have no mechanical advantage over any other competitor.
  • The competition can be a one-shot deal or in heat form, depending on the depth of the field
  • Time will often be measured by individual hand timers assigned to each competitor
  • Once the competitor has finished opening their oysters, they may signal by putting their hands up or by ringing a bell/ buzzer
  • Time additions will be designated by the judges for unfavorable oysters, such as broken shells, foreign matter in the oyster (such as shell, mud or blood), pierced bellies, torn gills, or anything that makes the oyster not suitable for consumption
  • Time bonuses can be deducted for cleanliness, efficiency, and overall presentation
  • Cash prizes are often awarded to the winner and sometimes there is an opportunity to move on to more contests

"I liked being underestimated."

 Eamon Clark at Rodney's

Eamon Clark at Rodney's

One of our friends here at Pangea is a legend in the competitive shucking circuit. Eamon Clark of Rodney’s Oyster House in Toronto and I had the opportunity to chat about a few of his competitive experiences last week over the phone. Eamon is an ebullient oyster lover who prides himself on his presentation. He started working at his father’s restaurant, working his way up through the ranks to become an efficient shucker and eventually went to culinary school for a well-rounded education. At the beginning of his competitive career, he was the spritely underdog arriving to these large Canadian events to drink some beer, meet some people, and then shuck oysters faster than anyone else. “Everyone looked at me with the expression ‘Who is this young kid? What is he doing here?’ and I just went about my business. I liked being underestimated,” said Eamon. In Galway in 2014, Eamon arrived with his many years of experience and came in 2nd place in the world shucking 30 of 32 European flats (ostrea edulis) in about 2.5 minutes. This is an impressive feat, yet truly understandable for the man who is the current Canadian record holder.

What better way to illustrate the intense world of competitive shucking than to attend a local competition at B&G Oysters in the South End of Boston. This past weekend, the BL Gruppo put on the B&G Oyster Invitational which brought together oyster farmers, harvesters, distributors and chefs from around the Northeast under the guise of one heck of a block party. At the end of the event, they staged a competition in four rounds - Round 1: Farmers, Round 2: BL Gruppo, Round 3: Chefs, Round 4: The Championship Round.

In the first round, it was NorthCoast Seafood vs. American Mussel Harvesters. Both shuckers had 2 minutes to choose 8 oysters from a large vat at the front of the table. After, they had to leave their knife on the table and have their hands in the air to wait for the start signal. Once the announcer gave the word, the two shuckers tore into their bounty, aiming to open just 6 of the 8 oysters chosen (the extras are there in case of broken or undesirable oysters). In under two minutes, both shuckers completed their plates and stepped away with their hands in the air. I judged this event along with our friend Paul Hagan of John Nagle Company. We poked at the shells to make sure bellies were intact and that the meats were disconnected from the shells. The shucker from NorthCoast was the clear winner. In the next rounds, the BL Gruppo winner was one of their sous chefs, and the chef round was won by the head shucker from Neptune Oyster.

The final round of the B&G Oyster Inviational

The last heat was the most anticipated for a few reasons. The three shuckers had to choose their oysters from the bin that the previous heats chose from, leaving the less desirable bent hinges and thin bills, making the last round all the more challenging. Plus, this was the championship round. Again, the shuckers had their knives on the table and their hands in the air until the announcer made the call. The shuckers took off and hunched over the table, making light work of each twisted shell. The first to finish was Fernanda from Neptune, who barely broke a sweat in the early spring sun. Next was Julio from the Gruppo, followed closely by Scott from NorthCoast. Now, the time was one thing, but Paul and I made some careful observations over the plates. Julio had some shell fragments, but his bellies were all intact. Scott had some pierced bellies and torn gills and not all were disconnected from the shell. Fernanda had every oyster without any rips or shell fragments, but not all were disconnected fully from the shell. In the end, Fernanda was the clear winner, and man, those oysters tasted like sweet victory!

Be sure to check out when the next oyster festival hits your town so you can see this amazing event up close and personal.

 

#shuckon and #eatmoreoysters

 

Recipe: Black Label Fideuà

IMG_7651.JPG

Fideuà is a dish that is similar in most ways to Paella, but instead, uses fine short pasta (called fideo) instead of rice. The difference is a lighter texture with some deep nuttiness from the toasted pasta. This dish can be made more simply just by using seafood stock instead of making your own, but let’s be honest; I have a tendency to go a bit overboard. All you need to make this dish sing is a nice pinch of good saffron and a heap of our succulent Black Label mussels. Is your pan too large for your stove burners? Try cooking it on the grill!

Ingredients

·         2# Black Label Mussels
·         500g Fideo pasta (or broken up angel hair)

 Blistered tomatoes give a MELLOWED acidity to the dish

Blistered tomatoes give a MELLOWED acidity to the dish

·         1 1.5# lobster, raw and in shell, claws and tail separated from the body
·         1 onion, sliced
·         1 carrot, sliced
·         2 ribs celery, sliced
·         3 cloves garlic
·         1 lemon, sliced
·         Black peppercorns
·         Fennel seed
·         Yellow mustard seed
·         Pinch saffron

·         1 Vidalia onion, sliced thinly
·         2 cloves garlic, sliced
·         1c. dry white wine
·         ½ t. sweet smoked paprika (Pimentón)
·         1 c. yellow cherry or grape tomatoes, halved and blistered
·         1/2c. cooked peas
·         1 c. asparagus, blanched and sliced
·         Salt
·         Olive oil
·         Parsley, chopped
·         Lemons, cut into wedges
·         Aioli/ garlic mayonnaise (optional)

 Untoasted

Untoasted

Coat the Fideo in a tablespoon of olive oil and toast until golden brown (think the color of corn flakes) at 350F. Set aside to cool. Pro tip: line your baking sheet with foil so its easier to transfer the noodles directly into the pan without mess. (See picture for color reference.)

 toasted

toasted

Put all of the ingredients from the lobster to the mustard seed in a marge pot and just cover with water. Bring to a simmer, not a boil, and remove the claws and tail of the lobster as the shell turns bright red and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking – the body should remain in the pot. Continue to simmer the rest of the broth for about 45 minutes or until fragrant. Take off the heat and strain the liquid. Add the saffron to the liquid and set aside. This will be the cooking broth, which should yield about a quart to a quart and a half – you may not need all of it. Shuck the lobster meat and chop into 1-inch chunks (and don’t eat half of it before putting it in the dish like I did).

 Simmer with just enough liquid to cover the pasta

Simmer with just enough liquid to cover the pasta

 Arrange the mussels so they have enough room to open

Arrange the mussels so they have enough room to open

In a wide bottomed shallow skillet (I used an inexpensive 16in. paella pan), soften the onion and garlic with a tablespoon of olive oil. Deglaze the pan with the wine and reduce by a half. Add in the pasta and Pimentón and stir. Cover with the reserved broth and arrange the mussels on top along with the blistered tomatoes. As the liquid starts to simmer, sprinkle in the peas and asparagus, along with the lobster chinks. Cook until the pan is just about dry as the goal is to have a browned and crispy bottom without burning the pasta.

 

Remove from heat, garnish with parsley. Serve it immediately with lemon wedges and aioli (optional).

 Enough to feed two hungry armies with elevated tastes

Enough to feed two hungry armies with elevated tastes

Oyster Piracy: The History of Taking What Isn't Yours; or, "How to Be Shellfish"

Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship or boat-borne attackers upon another ship or a coastal area, typically with the goal of stealing cargo and other valuable items or properties.

 Oysters have been long regarded as a unique and sought-after food, from the time of Cleopatra, the oyster stalls of post WWII New York City, and even along to current dollar oyster nights at bars and restaurants all over the country. When items are coveted, they are often gathered and hoarded, and people will do whatever they can to get their hands on some.

 Pirate vessel under capture on the Chesapeake

Pirate vessel under capture on the Chesapeake

In the early 1800s, there were booming oyster fisheries on both sides of the coast and were most dominant on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and the San Francisco Bay area. In Maryland, harvesting on the Chesapeake was a challenge, as common practice was to rake, dredge, or tong for oysters while balancing on rickety boats during high tide. The lucrative work was worth the effort, as oysters became a status food with the steady income most had post-Civil War. Hundreds of oyster vessels occupied both he Maryland and Virginia areas of the bay, creating stiff competition between watermen, especially between those who tonged and those who dredged. The harvesters who used tongs would go out in shallower waters, carefully culling and packing the best of the bounty. The dredgers were a bit more resourceful, going out in larger boats at deeper depths, dragging over the beds. Animosity rose as the dredgers could make four times as much as the tongers, and the dredgers often destroyed beds in the process of harvesting such a large amount. Some clashes even ended in gunfire. The dichotomy of industry called for protection in the form of the Oyster Navy in 1868, which was met with extreme reactions from attempted murder of the fleet’s captain and actions to sink the policing boats.

 Jack London - Oakland, CA

Jack London - Oakland, CA

Fast forward few years to 1890s and travel to the opposite coast, where the San Francisco scene was booming. Fleets of boats monitored their beds by day, but under the cloak of night, a band of scallywags greedily raided their supply. On a good haul, the scavengers could bring in about $200 worth of oysters for three or four days’ worth of work, calculating to about $25 a day for the two men harvesting and culling on the boat, but that was the easy part. The hard part was keeping themselves hidden from the patrolling entities and the men who owned the beds. Jack London (who wrote Call of the Wild) was among these poachers and even wrote stories about their efforts in a group of short stories called Tales of the Fish Patrol with a section dedicated to taking down the offenders called A Raid on the Oyster Pirates.

While aquaculture has grown and become more regulated, there are still a few acts of wanton thievery in our midst. In 2016 poachers were caught and charged with felony level theft in Maryland. Around that same time, beds in Wellfleet were ransacked at night, depleting their stocks for their current and future sales. While they aren't pirates, these thieves are still a mark of greed amidst a continuously booming industry, even with the advances in licensing and regulatory patrolling.

Oyster Pirate 2.jpg

 

Reference:
- Oyster Wars by Anna Maria Gillis; Humanities Magazine, Vol 32-3 May/June 2011
- Tales of the Fish Patrol: A Raid on the Oyster Pirates, by Jack London Mar. 16, 1905

Recipe: Savory Clams in English Pea Broth

Savory Pot.jpg

Spring has sprung and everything is green again! We took some of the early market bounty and paired it with our newest product, Savory Clams from the Hood Canal. These small clams are like a cross between an Eastern Mahogany clam and softshell clam, with low salt content and a robust sweet and earthy finish. They cook quickly and are a perfect match for this simple and aromatic broth.

2c. English Peas (fresh is preferred, frozen will do), shelled and blanched
3c. baby spinach, blanched
2c. cold water

 radishes offer a peppery punch to the sweet tarragon in this dish

radishes offer a peppery punch to the sweet tarragon in this dish

2 large shallots, sliced into rounds
1c. dry sherry
2T fresh tarragon, chopped
1/4c. English peas, blanched
Lemon juice to taste
Salt
Pepper
Toasted bread

Sliced radishes (optional)
Cooked Pancetta (optional)

 

- Puree the first set of peas and spinach with the water in a blender and strain through a fine sieve to remove any chunks – this will be the broth base for the clams.

- In a deep skillet or larger pot, sweat the shallots in olive oil until soft. Add the clams and the sherry to the pot and stir once, allowing the clams to be coated in the mixture.

 medium heat helps the broth stay its' brightest

medium heat helps the broth stay its' brightest

- Once the clams have started to open, add enough of the green broth to over the clams halfway. Add the remainder of the peas along with the tarragon and allow to simmer for no more than 8-10 minutes. Season the broth with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

·         Serve immediately with crusty bread and top with the optional radishes and crispy pancetta for added texture.

 

Happy Spring and #eatmoreoysters