January 28, 2010

Oysters: Raw vs Fried



On a whim, my new officemate S and I decided to hit up the Mermaid Oyster Bar for their Blue Plate Special (Lobster Sandwich, Blue Point Toasted Lager, and Old Bay Fries for $20) on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, S got called into an end-of-day meeting that finished an hour after the special was over. Being the determined eaters that we are, we ordered the Lobster Sandwich anyway and were rewarded with heaping piles of juicy lobster meat between two burger buns.

While I waited for my partner-in-consumption to arrive, I ordered half a dozen oysters to savor. My trusty oyster guide/bartender Jonathan was there to offer some new suggestions. Since my last visit, a few new varieties had popped up on the menu: Martha's Vineyards, Mermaid Straits, and Sister Points. I also tried a couple Kumomotos. Here's how it went down:
  • Sister Point from Washington State: Where was the salt??? Sister Points are typically salty. The two that I ate had next to zero saltiness to their firm, meaty bodies. Were these particular ones harvested where the fresh water was dominant? The finish was clean and it had a hint of seaweed/cucumber.  
  • Mermaid Strait from Prince Edward Island, Canada: This medium-sized oyster was mildly salty and had a smooth earthy (almost muddy) taste to it. It reminded me of the taste of "Tian Luo" or Chinese mud field snails, a childhood favorite!
  • Martha's Vineyard from Massachusetts: These monster 2.5-3 inch beauties were incredibly delicious. They must have also been extremely fresh, judging by the plentiful amount of liquid contained in the shell. After slurping down the light and miso soup-ish body, I was able to chase it with a gulp of the sweet salt water left in the shell. These MV's were even better than the ones that I had Grand Central Oyster Bar! 
  • Kumomoto from Washington: These Kumo's were quite different in appearance and taste from the Hog Island variety. They were still petite and creamy, but not nearly as sweet. However, the peak oyster season is quickly passing by.
After a plate of raw oysters in a half shell, Jonathan brought over a sample of fried oysters on a bed of sauteed garlic spinach. These large, sturdy Virginia Selects were built for frying; most oysters are too delicate to be handled this way. By frying the oyster, it triggers a dramatic transformation in taste. It loses its saltiness and brininess; it becomes more firm and smoky. The mineral-taste is more pronounced and the distinct "terroir" is muted completely.

As an oyster purist, I wasn't sure if I could fall in love with a fried oyster.

But I did.

The semi-crispy exterior instantly gave way to a juicy, meaty core upon the first bite. It was absolutely delicious. Then again, almost ANYTHING fried is guaranteed to taste good. It was actually the spinach pairing that really boosted this plate from "I like it" to "I'm ordering it the next time I'm here." Next time when you're at Mermaid Oyster Bar and sitting at the bar with a plate full of raw oysters, consider finishing with this one. You won't be sorry... but it might just make you hungry for more.

More pics can be found here.


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