Shucks! We Got Oysters
By Mina Yamashita
If you’re an East, West or Gulf Coastian homesick for good, fresh bivalve mollusks, weep no more. Suddenly Albuquerque is full of them. On the other hand, if you’re put off by the idea of eating this viscous morsel, I urge you to give it a try. It’s an acquired taste, but not so different from indulging in good sashimi at your favorite sushi bar or a well-made ceviche.
For several months, P’tit Louis Bistro (228 Gold SW) has been flying in oysters for the restaurant’s Thursday and Friday specials. These are blue points from Boston which, as chef/owner Christophe Descarpentries will tell you, “were swimming in the ocean just this morning!” Served with a mignonette (red wine vinegar with finely minced shallots), cocktail sauce and a wedge of lemon, there’s no denying the freshness and flavor of the rocky Atlantic in every delectable morsel. The presentation is simple and fun—a tray set on a tripod of inverted glassware with raw oysters on the half shell nestled in a bed of ice.
It’s always been possible to find fried oysters in Albuquerque. I loved the po’boy stuffed with fried oysters at Cajun Kitchen--which, sadly, closed its doors two weeks ago. Now, several local restaurants serve fresh oysters regularly, including Savoy Bar & Grill (10601 Montgomery NE), where a daily selection from both coasts is also served with mignonette and cocktail sauce. Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen (5011 Pan American Fwy. NE) impresses with a dozen Texas Gulf Coast oysters embedded in a mountain of ice.
Desert Fish (4214 Central SE) owner Tessa Zemon offers a seasonal range of 30 or more kinds of oysters from the Pacific Northwest and stocks up to eight varieties on any given day for lunch and dinner. The menu often features Fanny Bay and Kusshi oysters from British Columbia, Miyagi and Kumomoto from South Puget Sound, and Snow Creek and Penn Cove from North Puget Sound.
There are only five species of oysters harvested and eaten in the Western world—Atlantic (C. virginica), Pacific (C. gigas), Kumamoto (C. sikamea), European flat (O. edulis) and Olympia (O. conchaphila). Within these species, many varieties abound and are named by locale, and with good reason. Oysters carry the subtle flavors of their home beds right to your plate. Oyster connoisseurs will know what flavors to expect by the oyster's origin. Commercially sold oysters are now sustainably farmed, which simply means that cultured beds are tended and harvested in suitable natural habitats. The beds renew as long as they are not over-harvested.
The taste of an oyster is generally clean and only slightly salty. Shucked oysters should not have a strong odor. If you get one that does, send it back. Size and color will vary, even within the same type. The oyster is served floating in its own seawater (called the “liquor”) on the half shell. Slurp it from the wide end of the shell to enjoy its briny goodness. I recommend chewing a bit to get the full flavor of the bite—not just swallowing the oyster whole.
Some folks turn the shells over when empty to let their server know that they’re done. It’s a personal choice, but not a rule of etiquette. However you like your shellfish, don’t believe everything you hear about finding a pearl in your meal. Go for the oysters. It’s reward enough.
Nantucket Shoals: 5415 Academy NE, Suite A
Talin Market World Food Fare: 88 Louisiana SE
Whole Foods Market: Various locations, check for availability
A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in North America by Rowan Jacobsen (Bloomsbury, 2008)
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