Sipping B.C. wine. Slurping B.C. oysters. It was hard work, though I’ll admit there are worse ways to spend a day than judging pairings for the Osoyoos Oyster Festival.
The oysters we were sampling were the small, creamy Black Pearls from Quadra Island, grown, harvested and hand-tumbled by the Out Landish Shellfish Guild and supplied by fishmonger Jon Crofts, the owner of Codfather’s Seafood Market in Kelowna.
“Look how plump they are right now,” he says, shucking a frilly shell. “They’re quite robust, but they’re not too big.”
Oysters are having a moment. True, one could argue that in B.C. they’re always on the table, but lately it seems there’s been a renewed enthusiasm for the bivalve mollusks, both cooked and raw.
Raw oysters on the half-shell have long been a sophisticated—and pricy—starter, but now boatloads of restaurants are offering them for $1.50 or $2 a shuck during happy hour. Meanwhile, baked, grilled, smoked, battered and fried oysters are appearing all over Vancouver, and we couldn’t be happier about it.
Even the old-school classic oysters Rockefeller—oysters baked with greens and butter, sometimes topped with hollandaise—is making a comeback, not just at traditional chop houses like Hy’s and Joe Fortes, but at newer joints like Pepino’s and Pourhouse.
Mostly, the oysters we enjoy here are from B.C., Pacific oysters that enjoy the “meroir” of Vancouver Island’s inside coast, where these self-sustaining filter feeders are farmed. But don’t let the word “farmed” alarm you. “Oysters are considered one of the most sustainable foods on the planet, not just seafood, but food,” Crofts says. “They are literally converting plankton into food for us.”
Oysters are nutritious, low in fat and calories, but high in protein and essential vitamins and minerals. They are simple to serve; just shuck ’em and go. And they are delicious, delicately briny, often with a hint of cucumber, mint, celery or citrus. Or as Crofts says: “A beautiful pristine pool of seawater with this delicious morsel inside.”
So why not consider the oyster, not just when you go out to dine, but at your next gathering at home?
Pair them with beer, whisky, bubble or a crisp, dry white wine like Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay. The winning wine pairings from the oyster fest, incidentally, were the Bench 1775 Blanc de Blancs (gold), Upper Bench Chardonnay (silver) and Culmina Riesling (bronze).
The writer Jonathan Swift famously said: “It was a brave man who first ate an oyster.” We’re just glad he did.
Life on the half shell
Start your oyster crawl at these Vancouver establishments: Fanny Bay Oysters, Oyster Express, Rodney’s Oyster House, Boulevard Kitchen, Chewie’s Oyster Bar, WildTale, The Sandbar, Fish Counter, Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House, as well as shops such as The Lobsterman, Seafood City and F.I.S.H. (Fresh Ideas Start Here).
Learn more about B.C. oysters at bcoysterguide.com.
For info about the Osoyoos Oyster Festival, visit osoyoosoysterfestival.com.
Executive chef Alessandro Vianello has reintrodcued this classic dish at Pourhouse.
Make the butter sauce: Blend all the ingredients except for the butter in a blender until smooth. Combine with the soft butter until incorporated.
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
Shuck the oysters and place on a baking sheet. Place some spinach in each shell under the oyster meat. Top each oyster with about a teaspoon of butter mixture, then sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the butter.
Bake for about 5 to 6 minutes. Serve right away with some lemon wedges and crusty bread to soak up the juices.