By Peter Houghton.
“An oyster, sir, is one of the elements of social existence, a delicacy of no age, sex, or condition, but patent to the universal family of man…Good in a scallop, better in a stew, best of all in the shell…”
–A Crustaceous Tour, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Volume 44. 1838 aka The Irish Oyster Eater
Living in Southeastern Massachusetts provides ample opportunities to enjoy oysters, and the winter is a great time to be eating them. The frequently pricey bi-valve may once have seemed a luxury purchase, but innovations in oyster breeding and oyster farming have helped drive today’s oyster renaissance and increased their accessibility. We are the beneficiaries of hundreds of varieties now available, including those raised right here on our very own shores.
The subtle complexity of the oyster is similar to that of a wine. In fact, as the term “terroir” concerns itself with a region’s soils and atmosphere in a particular wine, the term “merior,” coined by Greg Atkinson of the Seattle Times, involves the salinity, temperature, and food source of a water in producing an oyster. And no longer is cocktail sauce the only accoutrement: new takes on the traditional mignonettes, such as a chili-lime or soy-ginger dipping sauce, are enhancing the experience.
In addition to the many perennial festivals dedicated to the local mollusk, the “$1 oyster special” has been opening more than just doors to a larger audience. This is a great, affordable way for a newcomer to dip their toe into the briny waters and broaden their palate, or for the seasoned professional to belly up for a couple of dozen with an ice cold beer. There are a number of restaurants offering the $1 special on the South Shore and South Coast, but don’t expect to find them on the busy weekends–they’re generally reserved for earlier in the week. For a unique experience, head on down this March to the Charlie Horse in Kingston for March Oyster Madness. Similarly fashioned like the NCAA D1 Basketball tournament, you’ll be able to participate by casting your shells in this Sweet 16-style contest to see which mollusk will come out on top. They’ll be featuring oysters from Massachusetts to Maine including local favorites Ichabod, Island Creek, and Rocky Nook to stalwarts Wellfleet and Pemaquid.
Click here for a quick reference map of $1 oyster nights in our area to get you started on your expedition. Next time you’re out, don’t forget to ask for the oyster menu or check the board for what’s on ice. Many times the restaurant will provide a brief description, or ask the local ostreommelier (ok, I made that word up) which can help guide you on your journey to oyster aficionado.
Peter Houghton lives with his wife and family on the South Shore and has been studying oysters on the half shell for over 35 years. As an oyster activist, he has braved difficult and often dangerous conditions to connect with them in their natural habitats. He’s known to have, on more than one occasion, led an entire herd to safety from the local predators.