Posts Tagged ‘oyster’
Last summer, I had the unbelievable privilege of participating in a documentary produced by Sahale Snacks founders Edmond Sanctis and Josh Schroeter, called Explore Taste Adventures. The idea behind this project was to create a three-star meal using foods that are foraged, found, cooked and served using only what was naturally available in our immediate surroundings.
We set up camp in the San Juan Islands with our fearless crew: Josh and Edmond, the explorers; Eric Rivera, the chef; Jennifer Adler, the nutritionist and seaweed expert; Langdon Cook, the forager; and me, the food geek. We faced incredible challenges in the pursuit of this unorthodox meal, but the final results were amazing. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around to witness the team’s triumph…
On the first day of our arrival on Whidbey island, the entire crew went out for dinner to kick off our adventure. There were red tide conditions in certain locations around Puget Sound, but the restaurant at which we ate sourced their shellfish from red tide-safe waters. I, along with everyone else, enjoyed a beautiful spread of seafood, including oysters. Dun dun duuuuuuuuun….
The next day, I felt like a champion – I spent most of the day on the beach, assembling a smoker out of driftwood and aluminum foil. Around midday, a rainstorm rolled in and we banded together to build a rainproof fort to protect the fire and the food. By dinnertime, we were exhausted, but still feeling the adrenaline-powered victory of overcoming the elements. In the evening, we gathered around the fire to sip a little whiskey and look up at the stars. And then it hit. Out of nowhere, I started to feel nauseated. Urgently nauseated. I, “gave my bounty back to the sea” a few times, but I still didn’t feel any better. Within a few minutes, I was on the ground, incapacitated. I crawled into a driftwood lean-to, seeking shelter for my heaving, not thinking that it might make me difficult to find.
After a few minutes had passed, Eric noticed my absence and went searching. When he finally discovered me, curled into a ball and barely making sense, he knew something was seriously wrong. This wasn’t normal food poisoning. This was something else.
Eric alerted the team and everyone immediately sprung into emergency mode, getting me off the beach and calling an ambulance. I don’t have a great recollection of of the next hour or so, but I do vividly remember everyone on the team going to incredible lengths to make sure I was OK. They were worried – probably more worried than I was – but their actions likely saved my life. When the ambulance arrived, I had started to regain lucidity, but my abdominal pain and nausea weren’t subsiding. They phoned the emergency room at Anacortes, the nearest hospital, to which there was no land bridge. They called in a helicopter, loaded me in, and airlifted me to the ER. It was badass.
My incredible wife made the 2-hour drive to meet me in the middle of the night, after working a nearly 24-hour straight shift at another hospital in Seattle. After several hours, a few IV bags, and a healthy dose of narcotics, my condition stabilized and they discharged me. Rachel drove me home. It was 5 AM. To this day, I have no idea how she stayed awake for the drive there and back.
|A very healthy, delicious Blue Pool oyster (from a recent photo shoot I did for the Hama Hama Oyster Company)|
It turned out that source of my illness was Vibrio parahaemolyticus – a bacteria found in oysters under certain, rare conditions. I had drawn the short straw – one of the oysters at our kickoff dinner must have been infected, and I was unlucky enough to pick it. Getting this sick sucked, but not as much as knowing that I was going to miss the dinner for which we had been foraging, fishing, building and cooking for the previous two days. I had planned on being Eric’s sous chef, and I knew that his menu was extensive. I wanted to be there to help, but also to witness the meal become a reality. I wanted to celebrate the culmination of the adventure and high-five the team and sleep well that night, knowing what we’d accomplished. I’ll always regret the fact that I missed the end of the trip, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
So, by this point you may be thinking that I have a vendetta against oysters, or that I’ll never eat an oyster again, or that I stand on the beach and curse the waves. You’d be wrong. After my hospitalization, I underwent extensive allergy testing to ensure that I didn’t have a shellfish (or any other food allergy). All of the tests came back negative, and three days later, I was sitting at the counter at The Walrus and the Carpenter slurping Samish Sweets, Hama Hamas and Kusshis. In the words of of Ghandi, hate the sin, love the sinner (I’m deep, you know). I’ve probably eaten a hundred oysters since and, to this day, they’re still one of my favorite foods.
I do hope you take 20 minutes to watch the 5-part documentary at the top of this post. Even though my role was small, I’m so incredibly proud of this project. What Edmond, Josh, Eric, Langdon, and Jennifer pulled off is inspiring, and it speaks volumes of the philosophy and integrity of Sahale Snacks that they would produce this film. Now stop reading and start watching.
I really wanted to make glow-in-the-dark oysters. More accurately, I wanted to make oysters fluoresce under ultraviolet light (sometimes called “black light”). Why? Because it’s cool, of course. [If you were hoping for a more noble, practical reason, you’re probably reading this blog by mistake.]
I knew two things before beginning this experiment: 1) the quinine in tonic water fluoresces under UV light, and 2) oysters are “filter feeders,” meaning they trap particles from the water as a means of taking in nutrients. Modernist Cuisine includes a recipe, which is an adaptation from Dave Arnold and Nils Noren, for Beet Juice-Fed Oysters (book 3, page 206). The recipe calls for submerging live oysters in beet juice strained through a 500 micron sieve and letting them feed for 48 hours. The flesh of the oyster turns pink and red as it takes on the microscopic particles of beet juice.
Following this example, I thought there was a good chance that the oysters might filter the quinine out of tonic water in the same way, leading to slightly sweetened oysters that would glow iridescent blue under a black light. In my experiment, however, they did not. The picture you see above is one of my test oysters under a fluorescent UV bulb. Although it looks cool in the photo, it is very much not fluorescing. If I put a white cloth next to the oyster, the cloth lit up like a warehouse rave, but the oyster was only reflecting the bluish hue of the visible light from the UV blub. Interestingly, a portion of the shell just at the hinge is fluorescing (it’s a brighter blue-green in the picture) but I did not achieve my intended result of an iridescent mollusk.
Why didn’t it work? I have a few theories:
- Perhaps the oysters were DOA. Shamefully, I purchased the oysters at the type of grocery store that also sells name-brand cola and US Weekly. I should have known better, and I’ll never do it again, but it’s quite possible that these fugly-ass oysters were dead before I got them home.
- Salt problem? The Modernist Cuisine recipe calls for 2.6% aquarium salt. I’m not sure what that is, so I used regular table salt. Perhaps that’s an important difference.
- Is tonic water lethal to oysters? The shells were still tightly closed when I removed them. I did notice that, for about 30 minutes after I covered the oysters in tonic water, they were releasing a constant stream of very small bubbles from the edges of their shells. I assume this was a result of them circulating the water through their muscular little bodies. But perhaps the fact that the bubbles stopped after 30 minutes is evidence that they didn’t survive the pre-cocktail environment of a bottle of Canada Dry.
- The quinine in tonic water might be inaccessible to the oyster’s filtration system. Either the quinine particles are too large, too small, or for some other reason can’t be filtered by the oysters.
- Not enough quinine? Perhaps everything did work as I anticipated, but the concentration of the quinine was just to weak to show up in the oyster bodies.
I may repeat this experiment with higher-quality oysters and additional quinine. Alternately, if any geneticists out there want to grab the fluorescence gene from a modified zebrafish and put it into a Samish Sweet or a Blue Pool, I’ll gladly shuck and slurp with you!
I don’t have a lot experience shucking – I find it awkward and a little dangerous to go jabbing a blade into an oyster’s crevice. So, it’s a good thing I can use liquid nitrogen to do the work instead. Nitro-shucking, or cryoshucking, is the process of opening the shells of mollusks by dipping them in liquid nitrogen then allowing them to thaw. Due to a process which I cannot (yet) explain, this quick freeze causes the shells to release way more easily, often just by sliding them off with your finger.
When my friend, Becky Selengut, local private chef and distinguished author of the cookbook Good Fish, announced on Facebook that she was getting her shucking knife ready for the bounty of oysters at her book release party, I jokingly suggested that we cryoshuck them. She said “sure”.