Thursday, September 16, 2010

Getting ready for Oyster season in the Lowcountry

Fall is "in the air", the temperature is dropping slightly, the days are getting shorter, and the months that have the letter "r" in them are quickly approaching. But wait... September is a month with the letter "r" in it! This is WONDERFUL!
September is the first month of Oyster season in the lowcountry. We are all anxious for the official start of Oyster season. It is traditionally opened on or around September 16th (that's today folks) but in recent years, it has been delayed until as late as October 1st.
When the season is opened, all that a person needs is a recreational saltwater fishing license, a couple of 5-gallon buckets, some old tennis shoes and gloves, and a metal rod. Making a trip down to one of the open oyster beds is usually pretty easy if you have a shallow-bottomed boat. Just navigate out on a falling low tide, and look for the official DHEC signs indicating that the bed is open. Park anywhere and go get some Oysters!
I love this time of year because it is still warm enough to enjoy the boat ride and the low tide oystering, and the days are still long enough that I can get out after work for a couple of hours of oystering. On a Friday or Saturday night it's a great excuse to have some friends over to eat the catch of the day.
So, call a buddy and go get some oysters (when the season opens of course). It is a great time of the year to be outdoors harvesting as well as enjoying good company.
Happy Oystering!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Great Conversation Piece

About 5 years ago, a friend called me and said that he had a bunch of oysters left over from an oyster roast, and asked if I wanted them. They hadn't been cooked yet, so it was just what I needed to instigate my own oyster roast.

I was new to the whole oyster thing, but I had been to enough oyster roasts, and watched how it was done. I figured that I could do this too. All I needed were a couple of key pieces of furniture. I needed an oyster table and a sheet of steel to cook them on. The steel was just a phone call away, and I had it the next day. The oyster table is where I focused my simple mind. 

I had some scraps of wood in the garage, so I started by making some legs that were a good height for standing up and getting good leverage. Then I cut a piece of plywood to put on the leg set and cut a hole in the middle for the shells to go through into the trash can. This didn't seem like rocket science to me, and it only took me about an hour to slap it together.

Here's the funny part... After using that table for 5 years and taking it to many an oyster roast, it has become quite a celebrity in my circle of friends. It has conversation appeal. It is not a work of aesthetic art by any means, but it does seem to have functional and conversational appeal. That little scrap of a table has become part of the community, and now it is starting to break down. It is time to start over and see if I can improve on the original design. I will update this post with some pictures when I get going on it.

If you find yourself needing a table to get messy on with your oysters, you should comment on this post so I know that you are out there. If I know that someone needs the table plans or instructional video posted, I might really get motivated to get it done. Otherwise, you will just have to get creative and throw a sheet of plywood on some barrels or maybe even put some legs on the sheet. I hope to post more oyster table ideas soon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

How to build an Oyster Table

Hi all,
I just wanted to let you know that I have some construction plans on how to build an oyster eating table. I am going to post an instructional video on Youtube any day now, so you can check it out. There is nothing like it on the Internet today. I looked all over, and no oyster tables... and they are so easy to build...


Saturday, September 12, 2009

I don't get it. Why do people eat Oysters?

I am originally from California, and I had never heard of oysters in the context of food. My experience with oysters was pretty much limited to jewelry... you know... pearls. So, I can understand the gag reflex that hits most people when someone suggests that they actually put one of those slimy things into their mouth.  Oohhwweeewwww...

Though I can understand the gag reflex, I can attest that this is only a temporary and fleeting reaction. Once properly acclimated to the whole oyster experience, you will start to understand where the craving comes from... Here's my story.

I started visiting Charleston, South Carolina about 18 years ago see my wife's family. We usually traveled during the summer months, but occasionally we would make the trip at Christmas time. I remember the first oyster roast that I went to as a "Yankee" (anyone not from the south). It was around Christmas time, and it was cold out. Some people we knew called and said "come on over, we're having an oyster roast". 

I had no idea what this strange custom was all about. It seemed to be a common event for the locals who would respond to the words "Oyster Roast" by going to the kitchen or garage and getting a bucket full of funny-looking dull knives and nasty old gloves. Then, proceeding to the fridge for a 6-pack of beer and some hot sauce, and heading out the door.  

When we got there, we saw that everyone seemed to have gotten the memo and come with their own bucket of knives and gloves, and some contribution to the food or drink. Large crowds were gathered around to tell stories and catch up on current events while steam billowed into the night sky like a factory chimney. I could tell that something was about to happen, but what?  When in the south, you never really know what to expect... unless you are a local, that is...

Then, a bustle of moving people stirred up on queue as a couple of men hoisted a steaming basket and made their way to the make-shift tables (plywood on top of 55-gallon drums) set up under some lights. The men upended their basket on the table, and there in front of me was the most ravenous feeding frenzy I have ever seen. Standing there in awe, I watched as people grabbed oysters from the steaming pile and went to work on them with their dull knives. Wearing a glove on one hand and the knife in the other, some people were popping shells so fast I could hardly keep track of them. Other folks, like myself, were working diligently on their first one, trying to find a way to get at the meat inside of the razor-sharp enclosure. 

When I finally penetrated the interior of the shell, there waiting for me was the most disgusting blob of MUD!!  "You got a mudder", someone laughed. I couldn't believe it. All that work, and no reward, just a pack of "pluff mud". Oh well, try again...

This time it went better, and it didn't take nearly as long to get my reward. An oyster! My first one!  I hesitated briefly at the thought of eating something that really didn't look like food, and then popped it into my mouth.  I chewed... and ... started to ... gag... "hold it back" I thought to myself... "there are people watching"... Whew, I held it back. Nobody knew that I just about lost it right there.... I had officially had my first oyster, and I didn't want to follow it with my second. It was time to leave the table and find that 6-pack that we brought.

After our vacation, we returned home, and didn't give the oyster roast another thought. Then, 8 years later, we moved to Charleston, South Carolina. And, of course, we got invited to lots of oyster roasts. It seems as though this southern tradition is more of a social event than an eating event. There is certainly a lot of oyster eating going on, but mostly it is where friends can re-connect and kids can run wild in the cool of a winter evening. 

Oh, and by the way... I did start to like oysters. That salty taste that is somehow reminiscent of the smell in the air, becomes a reminder of good times, and a craving for more of the same. I hope you will try to make your way past the first reaction, and explore the culture of the oyster roast.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oyster Hunting

Now, when it comes to hunting oysters, there is one thing that I know... They don't run very fast or hide in the trees. In fact, they just sit there slurping on salt water and waiting on the tides (Yummy). How hard can it be to get these little creatures?
I have discovered that it is not hard getting them once you get TO them. That is the hard part. You have to take a boat out during low tide and hack these razor sharp shells off of the clusters, put them in buckets, and haul them back to your house where you then clean all of the mud off. The mud cleaning is the real price for Oystering... There is mud on everything! The boat is muddy, the oysters are muddy, the boots are muddy, the gloves are muddy, and of all things, there is mud in my ear!!
Once the mud is cleaned up, and the oysters are cleaned up, the harvest is presented to the guests for examination. They ask themselves, "is this one worth the effort to pry his shell open?" 
The Oysters on the other hand are still thinking "is it really still low tide?" When they start to bubble in their shell, they probably stop thinking about the tide... just a thought...

Sometimes, I want to have an oyster roast so bad that I am forced to go to real professional Oyster hunters... the fish market... These guys get oysters from all over the place, so I often have a choice, and sometimes even get a variety to take home to the hungry mob.

Either way, it is always a great time cooking up the oysters and slurping them down with good friends and strangers alike. Of course, even the strangers become friends after an oyster roast.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Oyster Season in the Lowcountry

Have you ever noticed that there aren't any sites on the Internet where you can find all of the oyster roast accessories and ideas in one place?
I have, and I would really like to open up a community of people who love having oyster roasts.
This is my first post as an experiment.
I am making a video tutorial on how to build an Oyster Table, and some recipes and instructions for cooking oysters to your liking. I'll post things on Youtube and here on this blog.

If you have a question or you are looking for anything related to having an oyster roast, let me know and I will do my best to provide that information on this blog.

I look forward to hearing from you...