Well, not all of the creatures of the sea. Mostly just clams and oysters.
When I first mentioned that I would soon be writing about my experiences with eating raw shellfish, I universally received one of two reactions. Reaction one: “Raw oysters? Seems pretty tame for you.” Not said, but implied, was “Ho hum, oysters. When are you bringing back the bugs?”
Reaction two: “EEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWW.” There was no need for subtext here. For these folks, oysters were one very small step above eating babies.
I find the dichotomy interesting, largely because the same people who are bored by oysters were horrified that I’d eat pig’s head, which after all is just pork – most of them had eaten ham before. Granted, ham doesn’t usually come with a face (it’s the wrong end, after all) but really, the pig’s head is just meat like any other that most people I know have eaten.
The eeeewers, on the other hand, were often those who were totally fine with a pig head. Their objections were largely based on presumed texture issues and a horror of the raw.
Trying oysters for the first time at 32 had nothing to do with either boredom or horror for me, however. I simply never really had an opportunity to eat them. When I was a kid, most of our shellfish was boiled – lobsters and steamers cooked in the backyard and messily eaten, dripping with butter. There was also a slight fear, since alleviated, that I had a shellfish allergy. All of this conspired to keep me away from raw bivalves for quite some time. Thankfully, this has been rectified with the help of several friends! Over the past few days I’ve been out for raw shellfish twice – once from a stall right in the street, and once at a reasonably nice restaurant. There were pros and cons to each approach.
Approach one: the raw bar at Haymarket. For those who may not know, Haymarket is an outdoor market that runs on Fridays and Saturdays, mostly offering dirt-cheap produce. However, a few stalls sell meat or fish, and it was to one of these that my friends Dan and Elise escorted me this Saturday. There, a friendly gentleman in a raincoat had a lovely display:
For $5, you could select six oysters, clams, or a combination of the two and eat them right there on the streets of Boston. He provided lemon, hot sauce, or cocktail sauce to garnish, as well as some paper napkins for the inevitable mess. I paid my $5 and decided to try three of each shellfish. I’d had oysters once before at the tiki bash, and was eager to compare them to the clams. I forwent any seasoning other than lemon and dove in.
As Elise mentions in her post on the subject, the clams were more deeply oceanic than the oysters – slightly saltier and more heavily flavored. They were a bit bigger, as well, providing a bit more of a meaty chew than the more delicate oysters. I found that liked them more than I was expecting – the oysters by comparison were very muted.
Approach two: dollar oysters at The Marliave with Jessica. I’m a big fan of this restaurant anyway, with its old-timey feel and beautiful marble bar, and this deal on bivalves from 4-6 every day only adds to the charm. While clams were also available here, Jessica and I opted strictly for oysters – with 4 kinds available there was enough comparison to be had.
The oysters were Duxbury, Wellfleet, Falmouth and Beach Points, and were served with a champagne mignonette and horseradish cocktail sauce (I’m not normally a cocktail sauce fan, because I don’t like bottled ketchup, but I think this was made with homemade and was outstanding). We tried to figure out which oysters we liked best, but had a hard time paying attention to the poor bartender when he was telling us what each one was. I knew for sure which was the Duxbury, which I turned out to like the best, but couldn’t say for sure which were the others. I enjoyed them all, but felt the Duxbury had the most sweetness. These oysters are all the same species, the Virginica (middle one in the photo) but have a somewhat different flavor due to the water they are raised in – as filter feeders, the oysters’ environment is everything to how they taste. We paired them with a nice cold glass of Prosecco at the prompting of the bartender – while I’m normally not a fan of white wine or bubbles, it really was the ideal match in mineral sweetness to the oysters.
Pros to Approach 1:
– It was super fun! Eating on the street has an adventuresome quality that I fully embrace.
– It was super cheap – like getting an oyster for free!
– There was a sense of community – everyone’s grabbing at the same bed of ice, but in a reallypleasant, we’re sharing a meal kind of way.
Cons to Approach 1:
– It was kind of chilly. Oysters are best eaten in winter for many reasons, so it’s a bit tough to be standing with your hands in ice.
– There were fewer amenities – the condiments were a bit more rustic (which can add to the adventure appeal above) and no prosecco.
– Little variety – one kind of oyster, and one kind of clam were what you got.
Pros to Approach 2:
Beauty – the Marliave is a handsome bar, and they do nice presentation on the oysters.
Variety – the four types of oysters made it fun to explore nuances of flavor, even if I couldn’t remember which was which.
Fantastic amenities – great condiments, you could have a drink, and there was a more robust napkin to wipe your hands on.
Cons to Approach 2:
Cost – while a dollar each is a great deal, it’s only for those two hours – after that the price is 2.75 each! Add on a drink and another appetizer and you’ve got a much pricier evening.
Less adventurous – there’s something much more stolid about eating indoors.
Both were a lot of fun, for different reasons. I’m eager to do it again soon!
Before I let you off the hook, this Thursday, December 3rd, you should head over to Improv Boston at 10pm. Why, you ask? Well, because the aforementioned Jess is hosting her fabulous A Night of Oral…Tradition! This is a fabulous storytelling hour. On top of that, the theme will be eating weird food, and my dear friend Gary will be eating for your amusement! Gary is…a less adventurous eater, but he’s going to give it the old college try. Be there – I will!