Thursday, June 21, 2012
There are reasons the Pacific oysters from Morro Bay Oyster Company are tasty enough to earn the affections of an ABC of top Monterey County culinary outposts: Andre’s Bouchee, Bernardus and C Restaurant, among a dozen local standouts total (see box, below).
Its waters are as clean and clear as the skies at the inaugural Central Coast Oyster Festival last Saturday – the Morro estuary is one of the few to qualify for the national estuary program without needing any purifying improvements. The company’s beds float in an intermingling of the Pacific and two freshwater creeks (the Chorro and Los Osos), which lend the shellfish a melon-like sweetness not possible in purely salty waters. The family-owned outfit, with a founding marine-biologist son Neal Maloney spearheading systems and father Dwight paying bills and helping deliver, has enjoyed Seafood Watch recognition for its sea-breeze light impact on the watershed. And the geological activity that gave the area the Seven Sisters mountains, the inactive volcanic “plugs” which include the iconic Morro Rock itself, also lends them minerals which furnish fuller flavor. (The Sisters’ volcanic slopes also allow for some tasty wines to pair with oysters as well.)
So even if, according to local guides, Morro Bay’s iconic rock is the second largest water-surrounded outcropping in the world (after Gibraltar, though the difference between an island and a water-surrounded rock remains out to sea), and its harbor is the second deadliest harbor in the country (“It’s just by body count – if we tried harder we could be number one,” a local captain says), it’s the tops when it comes to beautiful bivalves.
There were other observations harvested from a Morro Bay mission – one which ranged from slurping $1.50 oysters at Schooners on Thursday to kayaking the oyster beds with Central Coast Outdoors (805-528-1080) on Saturday – to learn more about the oysters we eat:
Finger limes are oyster amigos.
Giancarlo Cucumo (of Giancarlo’s, 805-772-9200) prepped a “champagne and caviar” oyster – with an exuberant mignonette made from the tiny citrus plant cells that pop from long finger limes rather than actual fish eggs – which earned the fest’s top honors. The only problem: The limes are as easy to find in stores as pearls are in oysters.
Bottoms up is best.
For those prepping oysters at home, Cucumo let the Weekly in on an effective tip: after shucking the sucker open (curved side down to catch the liquor inside) and severing both sides from the shells, flip the oyster over and it will look much prettier and more cohesive.
Go shuck yourself.
Learn how to wrap a towel on the sharp shell, wiggle a strong shucking knife into its beak and pop open an oyster with a little leverage and you’re instantly better prepared to host foodie parties – and that oyster tastes far superior than one someone else shucked.
Shaking is as important as shucking.
MBOC staffers pull big bags of 150 oysters out of the water and give them a good shake every week. The weekly weight-lifting ritual happens over the course of the oysters’ bedtime – they grow from pencil eraser-sized seed into desirable 2-inchers over the course of one to two years – and encourages the oysters to better seal themselves in, deepens their cups, breaks clumps and prevents them from growing into the hard-to-sell claw-like shapes.
Oyster pizza is a plus.
When Flatbread All Natural Pizza (805-344-4400) couldn’t shuck oysters quickly enough to keep them on top of its pies at the eight-hour Saturday fest, the Weekly recruited a guy in line bragging about his own shelling ability to help, then leveraged that and a glass of wine for a free pizza without the wait. It might’ve been the taste of the day, and was certainly evidence seafood pizza should tilt toward oysters more often than shrimp or salmon.
Even oysters aren’t worth a 45-minute wait.
The $20 dollar cover and rousing music lineup led by YouTube heroes Walk Off the Earth (they’re the ones who covered “Somebody That I Used to Know” with the five members playing one guitar) made for a more diverse, younger crowd than most tasting events. But the debut didn’t have its food and drink dispersal dialed and that translated to obscene waits for, say, a dozen delicious barbecued oysters. But the installation design elements from Coachella-minded design outfit The Do LaB were spectacular.
Fresh is everything.
So says Dwight Maloney, partly because he knows first-time folks can be squeamish about oysters and he doesn’t want to spoil a virgin voyage. So he or Neal personally delivers oysters to Monterey Bay the same day they came out of his bay, and even swap out leftover inventory for freshies. They take the older bags back to the sweetwater beds where the oysters return to the water and filter-feed back to full health and maximum freshness.