At last, the final traces of our New England summer appear to be fading into the rearview here at Pangea World Headquarters. Long days beside the ocean eating oysters have been replaced by shorter days, slightly further away from the ocean, eating much better oysters. It’s a rough lot we have in life, but we carry the burden stoically.
But here’s the thing, we don’t have to do it alone! In fact, we can have up to 40 varieties in house, representing every region from Oregon to Virginia. This makes for excellent diversity when it comes to building an experience around your oysters, rather than simply serving them up on the half shell. By incorporating the regions that are coming to fruition this time of year, you’ll end up with a sampling of what the world’s finest waters have to offer, each morsel as distinct and unique as the locations from whence they came.
We’ve got Washington oysters brought up from the depths of the hood canal that’ll have you thinking you’re eating a chunk of honeydew melon sprinkled with sea salt. P.E.I. doesn’t disappoint either, bringing to the table virginicas cultured in the clean, icy waters of the Canadian Northeast. If a salt bomb is more your thing, look no further than our very own New England waters cooling off and our oysters fattening up for the long winter ahead.
But what is it about fall oysters that makes them so good anyway? The answer to this lies in the nature of the oyster’s life cycle. All summer, the oyster allocates a vast majority of its energy towards gearing up for reproduction. This takes a considerable amount of effort (and therefore calories), considering female oysters produce around 5-8 million eggs during a single spawn. Although this may seem like a ridiculous number, by the time predation, environmental conditions, and sheer bad luck have taken their toll, only 1 or 2 spat out of 5 million survive to see market size. With all of that nutrition going towards this incredible feat of propagation though, not much is left inside the shell besides a wimpy shadow of the oyster’s former self.
However, as the seasons change and the water temperatures begin to drop this time of year, the oyster begins to prepare for its next challenge: surviving winter under the icy waters of the coast. Due to the fact that the oyster hibernates during these frigid months, it is necessary for it to build up immense reserves of fat. To accomplish this, energy expended during the summer months to reproduce is instead stored as glycogen in the fall.
Glycogen is a sugar produced by the oyster which sustains it at times when fresh nutrients aren’t as abundant. This results in a heartier meat with a more robust brine, quality texture, and complex finish. In addition to the effect on both flavor and texture, the oyster is also able to utilize energy derived from glycogen to work on building out its shell to exhibit a deep, liquor-laden cup, and a less feathery shell than you might come across in the warmer months. In the end, the consumer is left with a bite of indulgence that takes on a satisfying chew and greater complexity of merrior, while the shucker is pleased with deep cups and sturdy shells. Subtle flavors tend to appear on the palette as well, often undetectable outside of this particular season, such as umami, seaweed, and sweet mineral notes.
So let us forget summer, and embrace the high season of oyster eating that is upon us. It would be a terrible thing to let nature’s pièce de résistance sit on the bottom until next year, and besides, oysters go just fine with dark beer and chilly evenings anyway.