Sunday, November 1, 2015

Bluepoint Oysters with Lemon Fish Sauce

     Shucked Fresh Bluepoint Oysters On The Half Shell!
     Eastern Oysters are a species that flourishes in the Gulf of Mexico and the American Atlantic Seaboard.  There are several varieties of Eastern Oysters and they do vary in shape.  Blue Points and Virginia Oysters are some of the best oysters to eat on the half shell.  Apalachicola Oysters and Long Island Oysters are also among the best.
    Just like with ocean fish, it is a good idea to check sustainability ratings, before purchasing oysters.  Some types of Eastern Oyster stock are recovering from over-harvesting.  The good thing about Bluepoint Oysters is they are abundant and the price is reasonable.
     Do not choose oysters from regions that have pollution problems or recent oil contamination problems!  By recent, that means within the last 20 years!  That is a fair warning for those who prefer Gulf of Mexico oysters!
     My first kitchen job was in a very busy Southwest Florida seafood restaurant.  Back in those days, fresh was the best selling point, so the owners never had seafood delivered to the restaurant.  The owners selected seafood fresh off the fishing boats when they came in from the Gulf of Mexico.  When oysters were needed, the owners drove over 400 miles north from Naples to Apalachicola to select top quality oysters.  Fresh is best!        

     Choosing A Good Safe Oyster Knife
     One of the first things that I learned in that old seafood restaurant was how to shuck oysters perfectly with ease.  A good Oyster Knife makes all the difference in the world!
     A cheap flimsy department store oyster shucking knife is a lousy tool to choose.  Low quality oyster knives lead to plenty of frustration.  When more pressure is applied to a lousy oyster knife blade design, the blade will flex or chip the shell, without prying the shell open.
     The best oysters shucking knives can be found at restaurant supply stores.  Dexter Russell makes both the best oyster shucking knife and the best clam knife on the market.  The surgical grade stainless steel blade is high quality and I have never seen a Dexter Russell Oyster Knife blade break, even at the busiest Florida seafood restaurants. 
     The Dexter Russell oyster knife has a white colored handle that is easy to see.  The handle has a non-slip texture and the end of the handle is wide, so pressure can be applied from the palm of the hand.
     The best part about these shucking knives is the safety feature!  Dexter Russell oyster knife handles are buoyant and the white handle can be seen floating in an oyster washing tub.
     Oyster shucking is done on a sink area that has fresh cold water flowing.  Oyster knives that do not float, inevitably end up in sinks that are filled with muddy oyster water.  Two hands are used to swoop mounds of oysters out of washing water, so an oyster knife that sinks to the bottom has a very good chance of stabbing straight through an oyster shucker's palm!
     A knife wound in muddy oyster water almost always means that the victim will be contaminated with some odd strain of bacteria or Hepatitis.  An employee that comes down with seafood related Hepatitis (Hepatitis A or Hepatitis B) by law must be restricted from the workplace, till they are cured.  A short handed crew in a busy seafood restaurant is never a good thing.

     Protect The Hands
     If bare hands are used to shuck several bushels of oysters, by the end of the day the hands will look like they have been through WWIII.  It is best to grasp oysters with a wet terry cloth towel or wear thick rubber gloves.
     Protective thick rubber gloves work to an extent, but sooner or later a few oysters require extra shucking pressure.  Shuckers that wear gloves sometimes get overconfident and they do not press a stubborn oyster against a wooden block, when applying extra pressure with a shucking knife.  The extra force applied is enough to drive an oyster knife through a protective glove.
     Old time oyster shuckers use a folded wet towel in one hand to grip oyster shells.  Since a wet towel offers no protection from an oyster knife, all stubborn oysters have to be held against a wood block while prying them open.
    When prying tough oysters open, always visualize the direction of where the point of the blade will go if the oyster knife slips.  Keep the fingers out of the way and angle the blade so it does not pierce the web of the hand if the blade slips.  The point of an oyster knife is thin and dull, but it can piece through skin if extra pressure is applied.
     Oyster knives can chip and leave a sharp point.  After hours of shucking, the oyster shells can actually sharpen the point of an oyster knife.  An oyster knife with a razor sharp point is dangerous.  A chipped or sharp oyster knife tip has to be ground back to its original shape with a dull point for safety's sake.    

     Shucking skills do come with experience.  I have personally shucked a few tons of oysters during my career.  In the pictures above are six good looking undamaged shucked Bluepoint Oysters.  That is the object of the game!
     •  By law, seafood markets, caterers and restaurants must save shellfish ID tags for 6 months.  This way if a shellfish food borne illness outbreak occurs, the origin can be traced.
     • Choose fresh, unopened, good smelling oysters.  If the shell smells bad then the oyster is not far behind.  Bad raw oysters can cause illness, so use good judgement. 
     • Always shuck oysters to order.  Shucking oysters ahead of time causes drying and possible bacterial contamination.
     • Oysters can be opened over a container to catch the oyster liquor.  Oyster liquor is required for some recipes.
     • The goal is to serve an undamaged clean oyster on one undamaged shell half.  Serving mutilated oyster meat on broken shells is not a good thing.  Perfectly shucked oysters please oyster loving customers to no end!
     • Experience is the only way to develop the skill of reading where to place the shucking blade on the shell, before prying.  An experienced shucker knows where to start prying when shells are soft and easily broken.  A good shucker also knows where to pry when an oyster seals its own shell tighter than a drum.  Practice is the only way to develop these skills.
     • I usually pry the heel point of the shell first.  The heel point offers the best leverage.  The object is to pry the upper shell from the lower shell just enough, to slide the shucking knife against the inside of the top shell to sever the attaching mussel.  The top shell is then easily freed.
     • Rinsing opened oysters under cold water ensures that no sand or bits of shell will be served.  The oyster is rinsed under cold running water before severing the muscle that attaches the oyster to the bottom shell.  This way the oyster meat is not washed out of the shell down the drain of the sink.    
     • It is also important to look for pearls, because a pearl can break a customer's tooth.  Usually a pearl can easily be seen or felt.  The pearls are nearly worthless, but they are fun to collect.
     • After rinsing, the oyster knife is used to sever the muscle that attaches the meat to the bottom shell half.  Slide the oyster knife under the meat against the shell to sever the attached muscle.
     • Ugly shells and damaged shells make for ugly presentations.  Always serve the oyster on the better looking shell half.
     Learning how to shuck oysters is easy if you learn from somebody that is adept at performing the task.  After some experience you will become what they call, "A Bad To The Bone Mother Shucker!"      
     Lemon Fish Sauce:
     This recipe yields enough for 12 shucked oysters.
     Bottled Ponzu Sauce has been a popular oyster dipping sauce in recent years.  Ponzu is a thin sauce made with fermented dried tuna, soy sauce, Mirin and citrus fruit.  
     Bottled Vietnamese Fish Sauce is made with sun dried anchovies, so the umami flavor is a bit deeper than Ponzu.  Fish Sauce can be found in Asian food markets and some grocery stores.
     Step 1:  Place 2 tablespoons of Vietnamese Fish Sauce in a small bowl.
     Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.
     Add 1 tablespoon of water.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of palm sugar or granulated sugar.
     Stir the ingredients together.
     Step 2:  Set the mixture aside for 20 minutes, so the flavors meld
     Step 3:  Place the Lemon Fish Sauce in a small ramekin.
     Garnish with a few long thin strands of lemon zest.
     Set the ramekin aside till the oysters are shucked.

     Bluepoint Oysters with Lemon Fish Sauce:
     This recipe describes presenting a half dozen Bluepoint Oysters.
     Step 1:  Place a bed of dandelion greens on a plate.
     Place the ramekin of Lemon Fish Sauce on the center of the plate.
     Set the plate aside.
     Step 2:  Shuck 6 Bluepoint Oysters.  (Follow the guidelines above on this page, if you have never shucked oysters before.)
     Step 3:  Arrange each oyster on the plate.
     Tuck a thin lemon wedge under the edge of each oyster, so the oyster shell does not wobble on the plate.

     Viola!  Raw oysters!

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