Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Oyster Varieties

I have posted previously on oysters after enjoying a variety at King's Fish House in Rancho Cucamonga. As I indicated in that post, oysters are one of my very favorite foods. I had no idea there were so many different varieties of oysters and I was surprised by how different in looks and taste the varieties are. I have had a goal to get back to King's Fish House and taste test the different varieties. I have done that and now that I am doing this post, I have discovered the amazing "Oyster Guide" website which describes various types of oysters, including something about where they are found and how that impacts their taste. I think I am feeling a new goal forming, to taste as many oyster varieties as I can! I am finding that the Oyster Guide is not all-inclusive, as a number of the oysters I ate are not included. That makes the huge variety even more impressive, knowing that there are ever-so many more.

The Bahia Falsa oyster 
is from the Bahia Falsa bay near San Quintin, Baja, California, Mexico, south of Ensenada. It is apparently one of the saltiest oysters. 
I've eaten them both times I've been to King's and both times they've been my least favorite. They have been the smallest oysters, by far. They don't come close to filling the inside of the shell and the shell is small to begin with. There barely seems to be anything there. In fairness, I have seen pictures of them that look substantially better. I note that they are sold year round and I may be getting them at times of the year when they aren't as good. I've not noted their saltiness, but I have noticed a very, very fishy taste, the fishiest of all of them.

Rincon de Ballenas oysters are from Baja California, Mexico, 
but I've not been able to figure out exactly what part of Baja. I found this oyster to be very juicy, 
but not real tasty.

The Quilcene oyster 
was from Dabob Bay, part of the Hood Canal in Washington. 
Dabob Bay is next to Quilcene Bay. Hood Canal oysters are known for their "clean, mild" flavor. 
Of course, contradicting this point, I noted that the oyster was very strong, but not as fishy. Not one of my favorites in terms of taste.

The Skookum oyster comes from the Little Skookum Inlet 
which is the "farthest capillary of Puget Sound" in Washington. It is a wide, shallow basin which completely empties at low tide and is a gigantic mudflat full of shellfish. 
As the tide comes back in, it swirls up the algae and creates fat oysters. Because it is so far from the sea, the oysters are not salty. 
The Skookum is listed as one of the "tangiest, muskiest, biggest [and] most challenging oysters possible." They are only for the "bold," those who "don't scare easy." The Skookum, in particular, "will push the musk as far as you want to take it." I noted that it was one of the largest oysters, had a medium to strong taste, but was not as strong as the Quilcene.

The Buckley Bay oyster 
comes from Buckley Island, British Columbia. 
One site says that it is "grown on the beaches of Baynes Sound," is "mildly salty and sweet with a cucumber finish." Another site says it has a "melon taste and a salt spray finish." 
It has a "grey and purple shell often adorned with barnacles" and is "deeply cupped." This oyster had the most interesting shell, thus two pictures of the outside of it. It had a ridge or rooster crest down the middle of it. 
My notes indicated that it didn't fill the shell and that I liked it a little better than the others I'd tried. 

The Fanny Bay oyster 
comes from Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It also is "grown on the beaches of Baynes Sound," but "near the town of Fanny Bay." 
They are "considered the archetypal" British Columbia oyster, "smooth, but with a pronounced cucumber finish." Another site said, "very salty, [and] sweet with a cucumber finish." 
The shells are "beautifully fluted" as expected from "a tray-raised oyster." My notes indicated it was salty and one of my favorites so far. 

The Sinku oyster is noted by King's as from Vancouver Island, but the Oyster Guide map shows it across Baynes Sound from Vancouver Island, up an inlet. 
They are grown with Pearl Bay oysters, but "suspended in trays fifteen feet deep instead of on the surface." So where the Pear Bay oysters feed on phytoplankton, the Sinkus feed on the microscopic zooplankton for more of a "mild, cold milk taste" instead of a "cucumber or seaweed" taste. I noted that the Sinku was small but had a good taste. 

The Beausoleil oyster, according to King's, comes from Nova Scotia, but according to the Oyster Guide, is farmed in three bays in northern New Brunswick. 
The seeds are collected from wild waters and half the year they grow in "floating bags near the surface," and the other half of the year they are "suspended in deeper waters to ride out the ice." Because of the uncrowded and controlled environment, they are very uniform. 
The white shell has a "classy black crescent." The "flavor is refined and light." Elsewhere  they are called "delicate, [and] salty, with a fresh biscuit aroma." They also have a "supreme lightness that is heaven with Champagne." They are supposed to be for those who aren't real comfortable with eating oysters, who "need some convincing, preferably with the lightest-flavored, smallest, least intimidating oysters possible." 
My notes reflect that they were one of my largest oysters, less salty, less fishy, and one of the best. If I had to pick a half-dozen oysters of only one kind, and was restricted to those I tasted that day, they would be Beausoleils. 

Based on this small sampling of eight oysters, it appears as though I like the oysters better as they go north. My least favorite were from Mexico and my favorite were from British Columbia and New Brunswick. 

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