One “dish” you’ll find on my of our cooking vacations in Europe? Oysters — and all have a different flavor depending on where you’re slurping them down. While in the U.S., it’s often recommended to harvest and eat them in the “R” months — whether they’re from the East Coast or the West — an even more general rule of thumb is to harvest and enjoy them when the water is colder. This is true from Australia to South Africa, and up into Europe, from France, Spain, and even — one of our favorite places for oysters — Croatia. Because, chances are, if the place has salt water, you’ll find some oysters!
The other very general rule of thumb when it comes to harvest oysters is waiting for the right time; as in, the weather should be clear. While low tide is important in some locales, as harvesting the oysters requires wading into the water and collecting them with baskets, that’s not true of all places.
Take Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast for one, particularly Mali Ston Bay. This location is not only gorgeous, but it’s home to some of the best oysters in the world (don’t just take our word for it; experience them for yourself on our Culinary Adventure on the Croatian Coast cooking vacation).
But for many of the families who harvest oysters in the bay — many of them who’ve done so for generations as oysters have been harvested here since the Roman Empire — they take a boat out into the bay to find their plank in the water where they collect their oysters. Often they’ll use a rope, and pull it in to see what they’ve caught. They’ll throw the young ones back, and then cement others to the rope and put them back into the sea for a couple more years!
For the oysters that they’re ready to eat, they, of course, take them with them. One way to tell if the oyster is alive, as they should be until they’re shucked, is to tap them lightly and see if they close. If they’re going to be kept and not enjoyed immediately, then they need to be kept wet, but not in an airtight container.
During our Croatia cooking vacation, guests will actually take some of the oysters with them to their picnic lunch and learn how to shuck (open the shell and remove the oyster) them before enjoying them. And the taste? Simply amazing! What’s amazing too is how different the oysters are depending on where they’re harvested. Even a short distance can make a huge difference. In Mali Ston bay, the oysters taste less briny, for example, if they’re harvested closer to the fresh-water river that flows into the salt-water bay.
Have you ever harvested oysters? And if so where?
By Liz Hall
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