“Oysters “R” in season.” Have you ever heard that old-time bit of advice on shellfish consumption?
The message was a warning to avoid fresh oysters in months with no “R” in their name – the warm-weather months of May, June, July, and August. Unfortunately, it’s just the time of year when we want to eat by the shore and enjoy the bounty of the local waters.
Fortunately, like so much old-time wisdom, it doesn’t apply anymore. When summer oysters were harvested onto a hot, sunny deck and shipped in wooden casks without refrigeration, consumption was risky. Oysters sitting on the wharf, loading dock, or in a railway boxcar could quickly spoil. Not something to take a chance on.
Norm Bloom of Copps Island Oysters in Norwalk explained that the industry has adopted modern methods for quality and safety. In the warm weather, oysters are harvested from deeper, colder water. On board the Copps Island harvesting boat, The Cultivator, dredged oysters are immediately immersed in an ice and salt water slurry that chills
them to a safe 50 degrees.
Within a few hours the boat is at the dock, the oysters in a refrigerated processing plant. Better packaging, cold storage, and quick shipping by reefer truck allow us to enjoy oysters year-round. Aren’t we glad?
For her birthday this August, my daughter, Charlotte, requested oysters at the party. She grew up eating oysters on the dock at SoNo Seaport restaurant and developed a lifelong taste for our local bivalves.
Happy to help out, I picked up a dozen Copps Island oysters ($7.20) at the Norm Bloom and Son docks in East Norwalk along with twelve frozen ready-to-bake prepared oysters. With the bustle of commercial marine activity and great views of Norwalk harbor, I like to visit their dock any time I get a chance.
This time I ran into oyster farmer Norm Bloom as he managed operations. At ease in a plaid shirt, work boots, and a baseball cap pushed back on his head, you wouldn’t know he runs the largest oyster operation on the East Coast.
Norm has a love of the local waters that goes beyond business. He’s constantly working to improve water quality while innovating oyster production methods.
I met his son, Jim, captain of The Cultivator, and grandson Jack as they were washing seed oysters at their one-of-a-kind oyster nursery. “We’ll ship these up the coast to grow into marketable oysters,” Norm said with pride.
“With restaurants closed, demand is way down,” he shared. “But oysters have a three-year crop cycle, so we keep on farming.” The fifty foot Cultivator, with its innovative chilling system, harvests the mature oysters. The vintage wooden boats in the Copps Island fleet do the farming – moving the oysters from bed to bed as they develop.
There’s a knack to opening oysters that, with a little practice, makes it easy to do at home. All you need is an oyster knife and some kitchen towels. There are helpful instructions at CoppsIslandOysters.com.
Summer oysters may have a creamy appearance and have more liquid in the shell during spawning season.
The Bloom family now offers frozen ready-to-bake oysters in two familiar styles. Award-winning chef Matt Storch of Match restaurant in SoNo, a long-time fan of Copps Island oysters, developed the recipes.
Copps Rocks ($15 for 6), a Rockefeller style preparation, are topped with a well-seasoned blend of butter, spinach and Parmesan cheese. An easy fifteen minutes at 400˚ yielded bubbling mouthfuls of flavor.
Baked under a crust of seasoned bread crumbs flavored with bacon and a touch of jalapeno, Copps Casino ($15 for 6) oysters are a tasty riff on the clam classic.
I hadn’t opened oysters in a while, but after the first few, the rhythm of it came back to me. Find that sweet spot in the hinge, wiggle in the knife and give it a twist. Son-in-law Cameron Logan also tried his hand and got the knack. He reminded me that, “Texas (his home state) is a coastal state too.”
Aluminum foil is the secret to cooking and presenting oysters. Crumple a sheet on your pan or platter then press the shells into it. The foil forms around them, preventing tipping and sliding — a modern substitution for the old time bed of rock salt.
The birthday party was a big hit. Freshly shucked oysters were passed around the backyard — eaten from the shell with just a squeeze of lemon. The baked oysters accompanied charcoal-grilled steaks, surf-and-turf style.
Don’t look for an “R” in the month to enjoy oysters. Local and well-handled, right off the boat, they ARE in season right now and year round.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.