My name is Gregory Michael Babinecz, a.k.a. the S.F. Oyster Nerd.
When and how did this oyster fixation spawn?
After graduating college I moved home for a couple months and got a job at a local fish market near Philadelphia. One of my job responsibilities was to shuck oysters and clams for patrons to take home. It was there where I gained exposure to several different varieties of oysters and shellfish. I next spent 1 1/2 years in Central America working and traveling and realized the food I missed the most were fresh oysters. Upon returning stateside I moved to out west to San Francisco where I won a shucking competition in the fall of 2010 that landed me a part-time job at Waterbar restaurant. I’ve been cracking open oysters a couple times a week ever since.
So what is it you like about these brackish water rocks?
They are the flavor of the land. American palates tend to crave sweet, salt and fat while oysters are much more subtle with flavors and nuances you have to work for. In this era of ketchup, mayo and mustard squirts, oysters are one of last bastions of unadulterated nature.
For the oyster novice, lets talk oyster species.
Your two main species available in the United States are Virginica (east coast) and Gigas (west coast). From these two species we have hundreds of varietals, depending on where they are grown.
In general Virginica oysters tend to be brinier with a stronger mineral finish than Gigas. You can also pick up citrus notes and Umami. Virginica oysters are also a lot easier to shuck and generally prettier to look at.
Gigis oysters are more vegetal than their east coast counterpart. I feel they’re more complex, with anything from watermelon rind to fresh cut grass notes.
The Kumamoto is a third species, and it’s the oyster enthusiasts love to hate. In my opinion the Kumamoto is the Belevedere or Grey Goose of oysters- in a bad way. Many people think it’s the end all be all of oysters, but do you order Chardonnay every single time you go out to eat? As far as flavor profile, the Kumamoto is buttery and creamy with honeydew melon and cucumber notes. All in all a difficult oyster to dislike, yet certainly not the only one to enjoy.
What are your hard and fast oyster eating rules?
First off, always chew your oysters. Would you chug a bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc? No. You would smell it, sip it and savor it. Do the same with your oysters. An oyster has a beginning, middle and end. By merely ‘shooting’ and oysters and swallowing it, you are only getting the flavor of the ‘liquor’ (juice inside the oyster)- which is good in its own right but certainly not the entire experience. If you want to taste your oysters, then eat them straight up or with just a touch of mignonette* or lemon to cut the brine. Also, be adventurous. Try new oysters whenever possible.
* Traditional French style accompaniment to oysters made from champagne, champagne vinegar, diced shallots and cracked peppercorn.
You’re looking at about 7-10 calories per oyster, with B vitamins and tons of zinc. They’re also fat free.
Do you mind throwing out a few oyster suggestions for the intrepid crudo consumer to seek out?
The Sunken Meadow from the Wellfleet area of Cape Cod. Artisinally grown with a lobster stock finish.
Tomahawk from New York for it’s chewy, ‘snappy’ texture.
The Wild harvested Marion from Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. Big and bold with earthy black truffle flavors.
Drakes Bay from right out here in West Marin. When they’re good, they’re really good.
Shigoku from Puget sound, Washington. Ultra manicured with a nice brine and sweetgrass finish.
Finally, let’s play oyster word association
Mass McDonalds production type sh*t.
On the up.
Flipped and rinsed oysters.
Swan Oyster Depot.
Thank you S.F. Oyster Nerd.
Stay Bi (valve) Curious.