Thursday, February 26, 2009

Harold Cossaboom does it again...

Wow. The Green Sea Urchin from Harold's boats are some of the best I've seen, and the second shipment has just arrived. Absolutely full, and a beautiful ocean saltiness up front and sweet caviar finish, with notes of seaweed perfume. 
Harold is also sending me some scallops arriving tomorrow, so I'm excited to try those as well.

On the scallops side, the Weathervanes have returned to the Starfish bed again. I'll cover those next...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Paddy's Oyster Stout lands again!!!

What the heck is Oyster Stout? A just and fine question.
I first read about this retired beer style, called Oyster Stout in Michael Jackson's Beer Companion (no, not the singer) It was described as a brew made in the UK in the late 1800's. It was probably started by using crushed oyster shells as finings to clarify the beer by making a "raft", like when making a consomme broth. The raft sets at the top of the pot, and as it settles to the bottom, it draws the impurities with it, thus clarifying the broth. As oyster shells were used in this version, many folks thought that the resulting beer had an "oystery"taste, and they liked it. Later versions of this rare style included adding whole oysters, shell and all, just the oyster meat and liquor in various quantities to create each batch. The last commercial batch was made by the Manx Brewery of the Isle of Mann in 1965, and then Oyster Stout slid into the gullet of time...
     I discovered this while I was working at Rodney's Oyster House and thought, "Oyster Stout. If there was anywhere it could be sold, was in an oyster bar!" So I set about trying to find a local craft brewer to help me out. Most of the smallest batches that could be produced, was about 16 kegs...even if I could sell this obscure beer, I couldn't do more than one keg a month - that means making one batch a year...not the freshest around.
     Bruce Halstead of Durham county to the rescue. He had a special keg, able to screw off the neck, and add the liquor, one keg at a time. So we came up with our method of the Oyster Stout.
Approximately 4 liters of oyster liquor is saved off at Starfish. Oyster liquor is the clear liquid residing within the shells of the oyster. When it is time to make a batch, I bring the liquor up to boil and simmer for 15 minutes, cooking or pasteurizing the liquor. I then chill it over night, and hand it off to Bruce, where he adds the liquor to the keg first, then fills the rest with his Black Kat Stout, and brings it back to Starfish.
     The result is a black as night stout, that has a slightly salty nose and start, lovely roasted malts, and a sweeter finish than a dry stout. It is a little on the rich side, so it's rare that more than two are enjoyed at a sitting. Most folks who try the Oyster Stout love it, even those "stout haters" (yes, there are those folks out there,  but that's OK, that means more Stout for the rest of us). 
     Please drink responsibly, though -  as the oysters are renowned as an aphrodisiac, - Paddy's Oyster Stout may cause friskiness, and I know of only two pregnancies, post-quaffing.
Fair Warning.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Green Sea Urchin is coming...

Hallo Again. 
I know, I know, I've been talkin' the talk for quite a while now, but I told you that I would announce when the green sea urchin would be coming. I just got word, yes, at 1:30am, that I would be receiving a shipment of lovely green sea urchin from my new best friend, and urchin harvester, Harold Cossaboom of White Head Island, Grand Manan, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick. No, really.
Word is that they will be harvesting later this week, and Starfish will have 20 pounds either Thursday or Friday.
Now you can quote me on this...they still have to get here, there are no guarantees in life (except death and taxes) so give me a call to confirm, then tell your friends. If all goes well, this will be a regular occurrence.
In the past, the sea urchin I got was probably Harold's anyways, but it went to a wholesaler in NB, to Fulton fish market in NYC, to Montreal, and then to me in Toronto. I'd hate to do that trip myself, let alone a Sea urchin.
I will have more updated news as it comes in, and a story on Harold and his work.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

So you like your Oysters in the winter...

Hallo all. 
Well, I just got back from PEI, and I know what you're thinking. Most sane folks would like to go to some place warm and sandy for a few days before Valentine's. Oyster Shuckers aren't necessarily sane, but I was asked to talk as a guest speaker for the Island Oyster Grower's Association's annual general meeting. Quite an honor for a simple city kid from East York, to be asked to chat about oysters, something these gents have known for generations. Naturally, I said yes in about 2 seconds, and asked if they had a day or two to listen to me blather on. 
Johnny Flynn grower of the fantastic Colville Bay Oysters called over to James Powers of gorgeous Raspberry Point Oysters, and asked if we could be taken out on a tour of winter harvesting. This is a special treat, as the boys usually only go out once or twice a week to prep your oysters, so to land on the day is quite lucky.
I made a quick video of the work that is involved in getting oysters out to the many oyster bars and restaurants across North America, for us to better understand what oyster growers go through in the coldest time of the year.
The majority of growers or harvesters will try to get oysters to marker all year 'round, but are thwarted many times because of weather. In the summer the growers may be halted due to heavy rain, and warm weather causing a red tide bloom, but in the winter, you can guarantee on ice.
In the PEI, ice and snow blanket the "Island cradled in the waves" like a Colorado ski resort, minus the mountains. Pine trees, churches, and clapboard houses pop through the snow creating breathtaking views despite the breathtaking chill.
The day we went out it was -10˚C and not rain, but lightly falling slush, big enough to feel when it hit your head, just to make things interesting. Thank God, Scott and Johnny had extra foul weather gear.
We suited up, hopped in the back of the pickup, outfitted with chains on the tires, and made the five minute drive to the middle of New London Bay.
First things first, a grower has to prep the site, 3-4 months ago. Like squirrels socking away nuts for the winter. Scott and the crew spent allot of time, grading out oysters based on shape and size into 100 count perforated boxes. The boxes are stacked, 12 high, and six columns across into racks - 7200 oysters in total per rack. The racks are positioned in the deepest part of the lease area in approximately 15' of water, so when the ice comes in , the rack won't be disturbed.
Then they wait for the impending ice floe.
In the dead of winter, most of the growers on the island will close up. December is usually the last month for the serious ouster grower, fulfilling the Christmas orders, and then closing up shop for the winter. Repairing gear, and preparing for the spring thaw will take up allot of time, or you fish something else. There are several, maybe a dozen packager in total across PEI that can winter harvest. 
Once we make it to the harvest site, a buoy is selected, and snow is removed, exposing the ice sheet. One of the crew members, fires up the 24" STHIL chainsaw. Mmmm chainsaw power....
Rumbling away, the saw tears into the ice, and a 6'x6' square opening is cut. Four thinner blocks are created for ease of moving, and are pushed under the floe, instead of being hauled out. In the good ole days, the ice would have been sold off for "iceboxes".
Once the opening is free of blocks, an A-frame hydraulic winch is positioned over it, and the hook is lowered into the icy blue-black water. James is fishing for the buoy-line like my boy fishes for prizes at the EX in the summer. Once James has the line, the winch is activated, and a mass of grey boxes is slowly lifted to the surface, displacing PEI's signature red silty mud from the bottom, causing the now blood-coloured water to surge up, and stain the ice. A couple of minutes later the rack is lowered onto a sled attached to the back of our pick up, and we are off to the grading shed of the PEI Oyster C. The tricky part is to get the oyster into the shed before they freeze in the cold air. Luckily it is only a balmy -10˚C with little wind, and a short drive. (I was thinking more of me than the oysters at this point.
When we got back, the crew takes the oysters, and runs each grey box through a washer, check for "winterkill" when the oyster dies off in the shell, and gets very smelly (sulphurous eggs, gas, death in general). To check, the basically smell for it, three to five guys will check and re-check each box after washing.
Once the boxes are packed, then they are tagged and ready for shipment.
Grab a beer, check out the video, and when you next have an oyster in the dead of winter, think of, and thank the grower for heading out onto the ice pack, the shucker has the easy job.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

PEI in the winter

It is the dead of winter, the snow is piled up, and we're slippin' and slidin' around town. Yet, we can get lovely oysters out of the fridge, just about any time we want. Or can we?
This Colville Bay oyster by Johnny Flynn - fat, plump, and crisply toothsome with a hint of salty ocean, is sound asleep at the bottom of Johnny's beds, covered in a thick layer of Ice and snow. There they'll lay, hibernating,  'til the spring thaw, when the ice leaves the bay, and Adam (Oyster Boy) will go out and "tend the beds" on a spring clean up, and we'll get them once again.
Well, there are a few intrepid, truly hardy Canadian Oyster Growers out there that have come up with a way of harvesting through the ice, and frigid temperatures.
Lucky me - I'm going to do that on Thursday - in PEI. 
I've been asked to speak (I've been known to spin a few in my time) at the annual Island Oyster Grower's Association's annual meeting. It is an honour (as a Toronto boy) to be asked to share my thoughts, and really, your comments - of how the Malpeque oyster is  perceived in this and other Oyster towns across the world.
While I am there, I'll be taken out tho the water, and actually harvest oysters through the ice. I will be taking pictures, and report back, after I thaw out myself.
I'll also be shucking at the Claddagh Oyster House in Charlottetown, home of Liam Dolan, publican, oyster shucker, and now, Matchmaker, like myself. We will be holding interviews, and an intimate Matchmakers - Hartwarmers Festival on the 13th. All are welcome, if you're in the area.