Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
Terrific tinned smoked oysters for picnics, salads, and parties of all sorts!
Mark Kurlansky’s great book, The Big Oyster, details the depths of oyster culture in New York City, writing, “Before the 20th century, when people thought of New York, they thought of oysters, New Yorkers ate them constantly. They also sold them by the millions.” Long before Europeans arrived though Native peoples were eating oysters in abundance on both coasts.
Matthew Wills writes, “Across the map, nineteenth-century America was mad for oysters. Found on the East and West coasts, oysters became the stuff of mass and class dining, available from both street vendors and the fanciest of restaurants. They were eaten raw or cooked by various methods, including frying, grilling, roasting, and stewing. Pickled oysters were also a thing.” Mari Isa, of Michigan State’s Archeology department, shares: “In 1909, oysters cost half as much as beef per pound. Oysters were used to add bulk to more expensive dishes such as meat pies. They were eaten at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and by rich and poor alike.” Abraham Lincoln actually liked to serve them when he hosted political gatherings.
In the 1890s, the depletion of native West Coast oysters led to the transplanting of East Coast varieties into Pacific waters. Somewhere in the later years of the 19th century and early decades of the 20th century, smoked oysters became a prized specialty as well. Stories seem to have it that the concept came to North America first from Asia. These days, with refrigeration readily available and transport generally easy to obtain, fresh oysters dominate the market.
The small tins would be easy to miss at the Deli, but the maple-smoked oysters inside are truly delicious. Ekone has been harvesting and smoking oysters since the 1980s, and a few years ago they teamed up with the wonderful, fifth-generation Taylor Shellfish. I met them many years ago and was impressed by their deep dedication to the environment and to the quality of their shellfish. As the Ekone folks explain:
In order to produce the finest tasting oyster, we have to be responsible stewards of the environment where the oysters grow. Water quality is vital to growing healthy shellfish. We strive for good management practices, both in our cannery and on the bay, ensuring our commitment to our family, the local community, and for the future. All of our oysters are sustainably farmed, harvested, and processed in strict accordance with local, state, and federal health guidelines.
Because they’re tinned, these terrific little smoked oysters are ideal for picnics, carrying to cabins, or adding to other dishes at home at the last minute. Like all good conservas (tinned fish), they’re easy to stock in the cupboard to enhance any meal without requiring much planning. The smoked oysters are superb in potato salads, eaten as is on crackers, and mixed into scrambled eggs. Toss them with just-cooked pasta and a bit of olive oil and cracked Tellicherry Black Pepper. Set them atop a bowl of puréed cream of potato soup, both hot or cold. Or just stick your fork straight into the tin and enjoy their rich, smokey goodness.