A Shellfish Pilgrimage

By Ben Lloyd

A few weeks ago I purchased an oyster seed grading machine from Myers Welding, a metal fabricator in Tignish, PEI. We were talking shipping options, and on a whim I decided I was long overdue for a drive to the shellfish capital of Canada, Prince Edward Island. I had only been to PEI once before for the funeral of oyster grower and friend Troy Jeffery, who tragically passed away last year doing the work he loved. This trip would be very different.

Savage Harbor.jpg

Day 1:

After 11 hours of driving I crossed the Confederation Bridge around 4PM and headed towards Morell, PEI, home to Atlantic Shellfish and PEI Mussel King. Unfortunately it was getting dark and it was too late to get out on the water, but just getting to meet the people who grow our shellfish is always enjoyable. The Dockendorff’s run PEI Mussel King and Atlantic Shellfish. The Mussel King building dwarfs the oyster building, but as Jacob and Russel explained they are ramping up their oyster business bigtime. This was the general theme that I noticed during my trip.

Next I went to the headquarters of Raspberry Point Oysters, in Charlottetown. I quickly learned that the Linkletter name is ubiquitous with great tasting PEI treats. Not only do they run one hell of an oyster business, but they also own “Cow’s Creamery”, makers of amazing ice cream, aged cheddar cheese and butter, all originating from PEI cow milk. They also own “Anne of Green Gables” Chocolates and screen print their own line of T-Shirts. I was staying with Scott Linkletter, owner this island empire, in his cottage at the head of New London Bay, on the north side of PEI.

Day 2

I woke up to a gorgeous view of New London Bay. Scott’s crew was already busy on the Bay, pulling oysters out of the shallows to get them prepped for winter before the ice moves in and crushes them. Scott made a breakfast of PEI potatoes and his famous cheddar, while talking about the talents of Canadian Leonard Cohen.

We then met James, the General Manager of Raspberry Point, along with some of the office crew that was out to tour the farm operation with me. The next several hours were spent touring the various farm sites of Raspberry Point Oyster Co, spread throughout the north-central inlets of PEI. These included the Irish Point, Daisy Bay, Lucky Lime and of course Raspberry Point farm sites.  Each farm site had its own crew and boats, and its own supporting shore side facility where oysters were sorted and gear was stored.

Each of the crews were busily prepping for winter. I quickly noticed that almost everything at Raspberry Point is mechanized, a luxury that we can’t justify on our small 3 acre farm in Duxbury. Hydraulic booms lift cages, conveyor belts move product, and optical sorters were culling and counting as fast as they could be fed. All said and done the Raspberry crews work about 400 acres of shellfish beds. Keep in mind the entire state of Massachusetts has only 1030 acres of shellfish farms. It was a truly impressive operation with a fabulous and dedicated crew!

One aspect of the Raspberry Point Farms that is not mechanized. A diver sinks 400+ floating OysterGro® cages a day to keep them safe from winter ice.

Day 3

Bill and STANLEY Oyster's seed operation in Orwell Cove, PEI. Wild seed is caught on Chinese hats, grown out in bags and then sold to other growers or used to supply their own farms.

Bill and STANLEY Oyster's seed operation in Orwell Cove, PEI. Wild seed is caught on Chinese hats, grown out in bags and then sold to other growers or used to supply their own farms.

On day 3 I took my first helicopter ride with Brian Fortune, owner of Bill and Stanley Oyster Co. Brian was a pioneer of the mussel industry on PEI, starting Atlantic Aquafarms / Canadian Cove Mussels back in the late 80’s. Brian since sold the mussel giant and went heavily into the oyster business, farming about 1200 acres of leases on PEI. Much of his business on PEI was centered on catching wild oyster seed and growing it out for a season for sale to other growers. It was great to see this side of the business that you never hear about.

 Today we were flying from his home in Orwell, PEI to his farm sites on the south side of Nova Scotia. We lifted off and took a quick lap around some of oyster leases on PEI. We headed south towards Nova Scotia at a speed of 107 knots. Brian seemed to know just about everyone in the business. We talked shop and made quick work across the narrow part of the island towards Whitehead Harbor. With an additional 1300 acres on Nova Scotia, touring his leases by helicopter was the only way it was possible in a single day. Brian floats all of his oysters on NS in OysterGro® systems, which seemed to be the new gear of choice in the Maritimes. He had rights to entire bays. Again I was feeling very jealous of the resources that the sparsely populated country offered.

One of the many leases owned by Bill and Stanley Oyster Co on Nova Scotia. These are floating OysterGro® cages that will soon be sunk for winter. (Excuse the reflection in the window!)

One of the many leases owned by Bill and Stanley Oyster Co on Nova Scotia. These are floating OysterGro® cages that will soon be sunk for winter. (Excuse the reflection in the window!)

Brian’s oyster facility was equally impressive. Again technology was the name of the game. After all, how else could you process oysters from 2500 acres of leases? I visited with Brian, his crew and his son Jesse.  Today they were making plans for a “gondola” of sorts that would move sorted oysters from their downstairs grading room to the upstairs packing room. Amazing!

I won’t bore you with the details of my drive back, but it included lots of iced tea, and plenty of thoughts about the future of the oyster industry.  The scope of the Canadian oyster industry is staggering, especially when coming from a state that is only handing out 2 or 3 acre lease sites. Growers to the north are ramping up production in a giant way. Many of them are only at about 50% production, but are increasing every year. The sparse population of most of PEI and NS means very few user conflicts, which means more shellfish farms are coming. All of this production has to go somewhere, which makes me wonder if a price correction could be coming. It takes a lot longer to grow an oyster up there, so stay tuned in the coming years….

 

#eatmoreoysters

Recipe: Cranberry Sriracha

The addition of hot sauce to oysters can be a slippery slope. Some are so strong that the oyster only becomes a slippery texture absent of ocean spray. Sometimes, the hot sauce can have so much vinegar that the oyster becomes a salt pillow and all it leaves you with is a set of flared nostrils. As we have presented before, garnishing any oyster is a delicate balancing act, as you want to impart creative flavor profiles without compromising the flavor or texture of the meat. This sauce does just that, with enough heat and acid to elevate the savory sweetness of a northern oyster (we chose Raspberry Points), but is not so strong that it renders the bivalve bland. We also topped the sauce with a few shavings of intensely aromatic buddha’s hand citron, balancing out the final profile.

the end result: bright and balanced

the end result: bright and balanced

  • 10 ea. Red Chinese long peppers, chopped roughly
  • 10 ea. Red Thai chilis, chopped roughly
  • Fresh cranberries
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt
  • Turbinado sugar
  • Water
  • 1T Whole Coriander seed
  • Tt. Mustard powder
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Agave nectar
  • 1/2t. xanthan gum (optional)
  • buddha's hand citron, lemon zest (optional)

FERMENT
Place the peppers, cranberries, garlic, salt, sugar, and coriander in a large glass jar that has a tight-fitting lid (such as a mason jar). Pour room temperature water over the ingredients to cover and stir to combine. Leave out at room temperature for 5 to 7 days, allowing air to escape the jar at least once daily. You will notice efficient fermentation when there are bubbles rising to the top of the jar.

PUREE
Once the fermentation takes place in the jar, strain the solids from the liquids, saving the liquid. Place the solids in a blender with the mustard powder, xanthan gum, a splash of vinegar and just enough of the fermented liquid so the peppers blend. Puree the mixture on high for a few minutes for a ketchup-like consistency. Taste the sauce and add more vinegar, agave, or salt to taste. Bottle the sauce in airtight containers and refrigerate. The sauce will last for a few months, if you don’t finish it before then! The sauce pairs well with mineral and savory oysters, but remember: a little goes a long way.

Buddha's hand is the perfect aromatic balance to the sauce

Buddha's hand is the perfect aromatic balance to the sauce

#eatmoreoysters

Holiday Season 2017

L to R: Kusshi, BC - Manilla CLams, WA - Pemaquid, ME

L to R: Kusshi, BC - Manilla CLams, WA - Pemaquid, ME

The holiday season is in full tilt, and we wouldn't be much of a dedicated distributor if we didn't aid in your shellebrations! Here are a few recipes that are tailored for our top picks of the moment.

Kusshis with Cava Granita
serves 4

  • 12 ea Kusshi Oysters
  • 1 c. dry Cava
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 1 T. amber agave
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • 1 t. toasted and crushed coriander seeds
  • 1 T. finely chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a shallow freezer safe dish, combine all ingredients and place on a level surface in the freezer. After a few hours, scrape the surface with a fork. Repeat every 1-2 hours until the pan is filled with light and fluffy flakes. Top each oyster with a generous amount and serve immediately.

 

Manila Clams with Sake and Black Bean Sauce
serves 4 as either an appetizer or entree

  • 2# Manila Clams
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 T. fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 c. sake 
  • 3 T. fermented black bean paste (Korean or Chinese will do)
  • Water
  • sliced scallions for garnish

In a large, deep-walled saute pan, sweat the garlic, shallot and ginger until soft and aromatic. Add the clams and sake, and cover them just enough to let steam out. Once the clams open, add the black bean paste and a little bit of water to form a sauce. Remove from heat and garnish with the scallions. This can be served on its own in bowls with grilled bread as an appetizer, or served on top of brown rice with other sauteed vegetables as an entree. 

 

Pemaquids with Blood and Sand Cocktails
serves 4

  • 12 Pemaquid Oysters
     
  • 3 oz. Scotch
  • 3 oz. Sweet Verouth
  • 3 oz. Luxardo or other cherry liqueur
  • 3 ox. blood orange juice

Combine all spirits and juices in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Strain into four chilled coupe glasses and garnish with an orange peel. For an added twist, warm the orange peel over a flame before adding it to the drink.

 

Cheers and #eatmoreoysters