Monday, January 26, 2009


Halibut is halibut, just a nice white fish that is best suited for fish'n'chips, right?
Well, thanks to the aquaculturalists down in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, it's time to think again.
I've been working with Brian Blanchard of Scotian Halibut (follow the link at the top) to bring in some of the freshest, most interesting, environmentally friendly cultured fish I've seen to date.

Firstly, the fish is grown in an "on land facility", which means that the fish is not impacting on the ocean as much as an open pen fish farm. Actually, the water for the fish comes from the bay, but is filtered on the way in to purify, and extract any parasites, and then if filtered on the way out as well. This helps eliminate the contamination from concentrated levels of any left over fish feed and, fish poop. The poop is actually converted into fertilizer, much like that of a regular land-based farm.

What happens is, that the fish is left to grow, and feed and the facility until it reaches a weight of about 5 lbs, (about 2 years) which is when they harvest the fish and send it to Starfish, and  few other lucky restaurants.

When the fish lands at the back door, it is still stiff with rigor - gross for some, but dead sexy for me and the fresh fish lovers out there. Then the fish gets slimy, (I know I'm talkin' durty to you now...) as all fish will get slimy, because, mucus is extruded off of the outer flesh. What you are left with is great, fresh fish. Any fresher, and you'd have to take the hook out yourself!

At this point, I call Dr. Fishhead. As the name implies, he dances at the thought of licking at the cartilage of a fresh-grilled Halibut head - those cheeks, tounges, and the collar - my-oh-my!

 Chef Kyle then butchers the fish, and preps it for service, where he will lightly season the halibut, and roast it on the bone. The dish, as photographed, is so large, we have to serve it as a shared dish, and  most say it is too much for two - closer to a three person dish - unless you are a Dr. Fishhead as well...
The other benefit of the environmentally clean way the fish is grown, is that I take some of the flesh, and serve it on my sashimi plate. Normally, fresh wild halibut is not allowed to be eaten as it lives on the ocean floor, and therefore is susceptible to parasites. No, it is not a bottom feeder! Halibut is actually quite an active predatory fish, lying in wait, camouflaged on the floor, until an unsuspecting fish swims by, then SNAP-O! Lunch! 

Kyle is serving the Halibut for two with a celeriac puree, oyster mushrooms, carrots and a sage brown butter.

Call and I can save you a head too, but I've gotta pass it by the Doc first!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

ShuckerPaddy - Oyster Shucker-Matchmaker

 As V-day (Valentine's) is fast approaching, I've thought of something interesting to do while I am shucking at Starfish. I will be running a service of Matchmaking. 
I find that I meet alot of folks across the bar, all with the same adventurous thoughts towards food, and some with hopes to meet that someone special. 
I've shucked for it all - casual meetings, first dates, naughty encounters, engagements, stags & stagettes, weddings, and even divorce fetes. The Oyster has brought more people together that I can even think about! 
So now, I am taking it upon myself to have an active role in helping the Oyster in its lusty desire to bring people together. I'm just going to take down particulars, have a think while I am shucking, and if the right person comes along, I'll set up a meeting - over a few oysters at the Oyster Bar!
The service is free - you just have to pop in to Starfish when I'm shucking oysters, and we can have a chat. I'll take down some notes, and we'll go from there.
You can e-mail me as well - to book some time.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Time - where does it go...

Hello all, It has been a while, I do apologize. 
I have been busy with the dealings of the ocean, and how to get the best of the fruits to your lips.
I am working with a few individuals on the east coast that are interested in shipping direct to Starfish for a wide range of seafood that they harvest all year long in short seasons. That means, I will develop a menu based on the regional-seasonal availability of a fish or shellfish, based on when the people are licensed to bring them out. Right now I'm driving for Scallops and sea urchin from Harold Cossaboom of Grand Manan NB.
Weather is a big player, not just for the fishers who bring you the fish from the sea, but for the truckers as well. If there is too much snow on the roads, the product cannot make it to market.
I'll give you a blast when the product arrives!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Great Canadian Pubs - blog post of The Ceili Cottage

I just received a call from Troy of the Great Canadian Pubs blogspot and had a nice chat with him about what we want to accomplish when we open. Reads great, coming from someone else...
Have a read.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Scallops are coming

I just got word, because I tend to forget a few things, that we are landing the West tomorrow, Thursday.
Out of Quadra Island BC, the Outlandish Shellfish Co-Op puts together a lovely "black box" of shellfishy goodies. At the moment we are landing Marina's Top Drawer oysters, Beach Angels, and some gorgeous Weathervane Scallops.

Marina's Top Drawer - Rack grown, or fully aquacultured, at the top of the water, in trays (or drawers hence the name (partially) - Marina was thought to be Cortez's lover, and the top drawer was where she kept her frilly things...nice. Salty sweet cream, and melon vegetables.
Beach Angels - are started on the rack, then finished for a season on the beach to give it a more earthier, natural finish and a beautiful, sage green shell.

Weathervane Scallops - Oh, but the scallops! 4" across the shell makes for a beautiful scallop within. Size of a U10 (U=under 10/lb.) with the roe attached. The roe is the "caviar" of the scallop, and has a taste mush like caviar, without the salt.
I take the scallop, because it is so big, and break it down into its 3 main parts.
Mantle - firm- crunchy, like a water chestnut - and salty like the sea
Scallop (adductor muscle) - soft, and firm, sweet as sugar, from the sea
Roe  - ultra rare to get, there only a few places serving this. - tastes of "fresh caviar"
Get them while you can, I bring in a small shipment, as they only last a few days at best. Not like oysters. 

But then we all can't be perfect. 

Monday's Session & late night oystering

Pendy and the gang whipped up the tunes a couple of degrees at "The 'Fish" on Monday. Nothing like listening to good Irish music to shuck oysters by. Got me to thinking, that there isn't a great place to have a few oysters late at night in Toronto, and I am wondering why. I tried it in the past, and I know there are a few out there that try to stay open as late as 12 or 1am.
Toronto is the largest city in Canada, we have a great diverse group of people that live and play here, I'm sure there should be a crowd of people who would like to savour a lusty taste of the sea, after a game, in between clubs, or just to cap off the night.  
After going to NYC, and seeing Oyster Bars such as Blue Ribbon Manhattan at 3am, full of chefs, waiters, and generally debaucherous Oyster Fans, I've been inspired to open up a little longer on the weekends.
Friday and Saturday nights, when the kitchen closes at 10ish,  I'll keep the Oyster Bed open til 2am, turn up some stylin" NYC-Oyster-Grotto lounge tunes, and turn down the lights. Hopefully we'll get a few adventurous, debaucherous resto-types in after shifts.
Don't tell your friends.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Monday's session

-that's me after the "big win" 2001 World Champion Oyster Shucker - 3.5 pints o'the black stuff"

The music was fine, and reminiscent of any bar in Ireland! Two fiddles, flute, and tin whistle, Borhan, and the occasional sing song, and vocal story. I might add that the Kelly's oysters are perfect right now - firm, salty crisp, minerals - reminds me of the air at the cliff of Moher. Pendy's Starfish Sessions are providing a little something you don't see in every restaurant or bar, a bit of fun, and the sense of community. Just getting together for some tunes, and light conversation is what we need to make it through the cold grey of January. Spring is on its way, it'll just be warmer on Monday nights.

In the middle of it all I was asked to provide a song - actually sing, which if I did come through, would sound more like "caterwauling" (my daughter has disallowed me to sing at an early age...) That reminded me of a story from Ireland, 1996, the first year I attended the World Championships of Oyster Shucking in Galway Ireland, as Canadian Champion. 

The contest is of 30 local, Galway oysters, shucked as fast as you can then judged for cleanliness. The fastest time overall wins, and it pays to have the fine balance of speed & nice looking oysters. Each nation participating, has to run their own national contest. 
Canada's is in Tyne Valley PEI, the first full weekend of August. I run a cottage party after the contest - you are all welcome - if you can find it.
The US has their contest in October, at the St.Mary's Fairgrounds in Virginia. I recommend the line dancing.

In Ireland they have the national contest only two days before the Worlds - make for a busy weekend, especially for the poor sod who wins...but they stay in fine form.
After the event, the crowd moved to Rabbit's Bar, along the high street, and is the residence of John Rabbit, a wonderful gent who can entertain you for hours with stories, and direct you to whernever you want to go in Galway. (mental note, when you visit Galway, stop in at Rabbits, ask for John and go from there)

I grabbed a pint (or 5) of Guinness and just enjoys the evening continue. The place was wall-to-wall with folks from the festival, and contestants from other nations.
In the back, I head a bit of music coming from the courtyard. I went through, and entered the garage where there was a wee group of folks playing music, a gent singing, a bartender pouring pints from a single tap on a 4'bar, and a group of people all listening in. Wonderful. 
It was great enough to be there to shuck in a contest, but to stumble upon an almost secret back room music session/sing-song. That was the icing on the cake.
I just stood there in the corner, soaking up the atmosphere, while song and story were passed from person to person. After about 30 minutes of this, the bartender threw it out.
"And now to the Canadian in the corner!"
"Wha'?" half disbelief, half fear fell over this Canadian, as I do not sing at home or in the shower, and I do not know any songs, or carry any sheet music with me, I blanked. I couldn't think of a thing.
"Sorry, I can't" I said
The bartender gave me one of those bartender stares when you've been naughty. 
"Y'can't what?"
"Sing, I don't know any songs." I replied
"Not even Twinkle-Twinkle?"he sneered.
Now, I have totally blanked. I couldn't even thing of any words to anything, not even to my thoughts at the time. Blood rushing to my head, I blurted "Nope, not even Twinkle-Twinkle."
As they passed me over I learned a lesson, and vowed that the next time I had to go and Compete, I would learn a song to sing.

The next year, I spent 2 months listening to Peter Street from The Irish Descendants. 
Great, fun song. I still don't know the words...thank god they I didn't get asked that year.

When you next have an inkling to visit Ireland, make sure you go with a song in your heart, and the lyrics in your back pocket!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sashimi at Starfish

Well it's about time! I've been thinking of this one for years now. After a trip to Tokyo, and two days in the Tsukiji Fish market (check out the photobook when you visit Starfish, this is a pic from one of the Tuns butchers there ), really inspired me to start showing fresh, raw fish alongside the Oysters - it is a natural match.
On Friday, I was showing Claire Island Salmon, and Sardines, served with Sake horseradish, and soy. I'm going to see how this goes, if I can shuck & slice at the same time, for Monday to Thursday. On the weekends, I have Sir Lawrence David - Shucker extraordinaire on the knife, which frees me to work on the fish more.
The best is that I intend to bring in Guest Sushi Chefs from time to time (when I get around to it)

I'll keep you posted

Rock & Roll Train

Yes, my brothers & sisters of the temple of Rock & Roll. AC/DC has come and blown the top off the Rogers Center. How do I know? I was fortunate enough to be entertaining Cosmo, Pab and Harry, the gents, responsible for lighting, sound, and speakers respectively. The men behind the scenens really enjoy their oysters -  several dozen, waxing poetic of the tastes, and textures of each oyster, and chatting about the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. A wonderful night on the bar.
I was then invited to watch what they do, from behind the mixing board. What a treat that was!

I've been to 3 other AC/DC shows, while growing up, and this, by far was the best that I have seen. The combination of technology in speakers, talent on the board, computers to drive them, and the artistry in the light, and stage show itself, produced one of the loudest concerts to go to and yet, the sound was crystal clear. Every note from each of the band members could be heard. Absolutely fantastic! I tip my hat to all of those folks behind the scenes that make the band, any band a spectacle for the senses.

IF AC/DC is coming to your city I highly recommend that you get to the show, you'll not see anything like this again. Bring them some Oysters and tell them Paddy says Hi!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Landings this week

Irish Oysters are landing today, as they do every Monday, weather permitting.
Galway Flats, and Clarenbridge Bay cups will be joined by Wild Irish Mussels, smaller in stature, but bigger in flavour than most out there.

We are fortunate here in Toronto (and Montreal) to enjoy fresh Irish shellfish, as it is not readily available anywhere else in North America. An interesting story I will post in a future article.

To add to the pomp and circumstance, I've a friend starting up traditional music sessions, both Irish and Maritime, at Starfish Monday evenings. Robert Prendergast and friends will be up in the front window rosining the bow come 7ish.

Hope to see you there, you are always welcome.

Day One

Hello Toronto, and all three of you reading this (that includes you mom). This is what I would call day one of something new for me, and let's hope something interesting for you.
On the Blog, I intend to lay out some information about what it is I do. I, am an Oyster Shucker.

On the most part, I have many people out there in the real world tell me that they have and oyster shucker in their kitchen drawer. Although I'm sure it is cozy, spooning the days away, a shucker is a person, and the oyster knife is the tool. Although some would probably argue otherwise.

An Oyster Shucker lives in an interesting world. Neither cook, nor bartender, the best Oyster Bars (and we will get to that later) will have the shuckers work on the bar, out front for all to see. We handle food preparation, and make some drinks, order food, and bus the tables. We can do it all, and yet there is no singular source of training. Shuckers are trained by apprenticeship, and learn about the world of the oyster either on their own, or is told to them, by friends in the business, or manuals developed by the corporate structure.

I learned my craft that way, by watching others, and creating my own technique, which I show to the next generation of shuckers coming up the line.

I will attempt to cover lot of what I know in this Blog, but please feel free to e-mail any relevant questions - and do go beyond Oysters - all seafood will be discussed, as I feel more information is needed out there to learn how we can better take care of our oceans, while still enjoying fish - one of the best sources for protein humans can savour!

For those folks who live in the Toronto area, I will post what fresh fish and shells are scheduled into Starfish on a weekly, and daily basis. If you are interested to know when your favorite seafood is arriving, then just subscribe to this blog, and it will come to your door, when the fish gets to mine.

For those who do not live close to Toronto, then, I will talk of my travels with the oyster, to many parts of the world. There will be places to go and photos to be seen. For folks who do not like seafood, and fish altogether, all is not lost as Oyster Shuckers cannot live by fish alone. Organic, natural, and wild meats and vegetables will be talked about as well, as I tend to like all foods...lucky me.

Day One, we have to start somewhere.