Notes From the Island Fishmonger: Aw shucks … let the oyster madness begin!

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By Scott Dolan

It’s oyster season — just in time for Valentine’s Day.

And it’s my favorite time of the year. February in Florida is perfect.

The weather is changing into great golfing temps, beautiful sunsets, long beach walks and like clockwork it is shellfish season. It’s time for whenever possible a dozen raw oysters or a few fresh cracked stone crabs and a cold one.

Siesta Key and nearby neighborhoods over the bridges have some great oyster dining options:

SKOB and Captain Curt’s provide a great oyster happy hour with live music.

Monk’s Steamer Bar in Gulf Gate has the perfect oyster atmosphere as the staff shucks to order right in front of you. The steamed oysters “Monkafeller” is a Sarasota legend.

Big Water Fish Market provides the best available oysters, including cold-water and local offerings, depending on season. Friday nights feature the “Thomas T’s” spicy raw oysters special. A must have!

Right now, the local oyster profile is that of a very briny, buttery and clean taste with a salty finish. Oysters are most commonly eaten raw, steamed, or grilled.

May the world be your oyster! Whatever that means.

Here are a few oyster facts I bet you didn’t know. Get ready to be a connoisseur, because you’ll now be able to impress your savviest friends and family with your oyster information. You might even change the way you eat oysters and enjoy flavors you never knew were there.

Oysters change their gender

One of the most interesting oyster facts is that oysters change their sex during their lives, starting as males and usually ending as females. The shape of oysters varies and depends mainly on how many other oysters crowd about them in the bed as they develop.

An oyster can filter 1.3 gallons of water per hour

Oysters filter water in through their gills and consume food, like plankton, in the process. Oysters can maintain the balance of a marine ecosystem by reducing excess algae and sediment that can lead to hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, causing other marine life to die. The oyster population of Chesapeake Bay used to filter the entire water volume of the bay in just three days.

Oysters are shaped by their beds

Once an oyster attaches to a bed (a surface occupied by a group of oysters), it grows and forms around the surface it attaches to as well as the other oysters around it.

Pearls don’t only come from oysters

All oysters are capable of producing pearls, but not the shiny, pretty pearls of value. In fact, most pearls are harvested from an inedible type of oyster as well as from freshwater mussels.

Humans have been eating and cultivating oysters for thousands of years

Oysters have been eaten by humans since prehistoric times and cultivated at least since the times of the Roman Empire. The Roman Sergius Orata was the first person known to cultivate oysters by building a system that could control water levels.

Oysters get their flavors from their environments

Although most American oysters are the same species, they have different flavors. Because oysters filter so much water, they develop a flavor profile from their environment. Different bodies of water have varying levels of salt and different kinds of nutrients.

Like wines, oysters have a variety of flavor profiles

The flavor of oysters can be categorized mainly by the following flavor characteristics: briny, buttery, sweet, metallic and mild. Experts can break down these flavors even further, picking out flavors like melon, cucumber, mushroom and more. Keep this tidbit of oyster information in mind next time you try an oyster on the half shell.

Oysters are rich in vitamins and nutrients

They contain a variety of vitamins and nutrients including zinc, calcium, magnesium, protein, selenium, and vitamin A. They also contain especially high levels of vitamin B12, iron and monounsaturated fat — the “healthy” kind of fat that you also find in olive oil.         

The spicy raw oyster at Big Water Fish Market. (submitted photo)
Scott Dolan
Author: Scott Dolan

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