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TAKE IT FROM THE CHEF - CHARLIE PALMER - Oysters

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TAKE IT FROM THE CHEF
--CHARLIE PALMER
AWARD-WINNING CHEF, HOTELIER AND ENTREPRENEUR

OYSTERS
BY CHEF CHARLIE PALMER

Every fall, I look forward to hosting the Aureole New York Oyster Social: endless oysters and some of our region’s best seasonal seafood fare, served with lots of beer and Bloody Marys, a grand event culminating in our annual shucking contest, that time-honored spectator sport from New England to New Orleans. In this era of local consciousness about food, we celebrate the oyster, because nothing else you’ll ever eat bestows such a sense of place.

Oysters, found in estuaries where seawater mixes with fresh water, have the power to transport through taste because their flavor and texture is a direct result of their locality. Even their shells are made up of calcium carbonate, which is abundant in seawater. Oysters truly are exactly what they eat, right down to the mineral content, salinity and temperature of the water pumped through their gills. The colder the water in which it resides, the crisper (or firmer) the texture of the oyster and the flintier (or mineral-like) the taste. Warm water oysters are sweeter and meatier—the reason those extra-large oysters you find along the Gulf coast are typically propped up by a saltine and hit with a dash of hot sauce to enhance their mild flavor.

As filter feeders, oysters play a role in safeguarding their regional marine ecosystems. This sustainability is one of the reasons that cultivated oysters are just as good as—if not superior to—those in the wild. Oyster farmers such as Hog Island in Tomales Bay or Rappahannock River Oysters™ in the Chesapeake may better an oyster’s chance of survival by managing reproduction and giving fertilized eggs (called spat) a safe place to “fall” (where the spat can safely attach). But the oyster continues to feed only on what nature gives it, by filtering anywhere from 20 to 50 gallons of sea water a day through its gills (removing phytoplankton and other nutrients), and so different places still create different tastes, the reason oysters are named for the areas in which they originate, like wine appellations.

It may be hard to believe, but every Native East Coast oyster from the Malpeques of Prince Edward Island, light-bodied with a crisp lettuce-like finish, and the plump, mild Wellfleets of Cape Cod, right down the coast to the slightly sweet Chesapeake Bay Stingrays and distinctively briny Chincoteague Bay Oysters is the same species (crassostrea virginica) with flavor differences being the result of their local waters. In the Pacific Northwest, the only native species native is the tiny Olympia, named after the thriving oyster community of Olympia in Washington’s Puget Sound. Once a casualty of shoreline pollution and overfishing (particularly during the California Gold Rush), the Olympia is making a slow comeback and its small size makes a perfect cocktail oyster. However, as the Olympia went into extinction, exotic varieties were imported from Japan to revitalize the regional industry, like the slightly sweet Kumamoto oyster, known for its subtly mineral flavor.

At Charlie Palmer Steak Las Vegas, we don’t play favorites. We draw our impeccable oysters from both coasts. For our Oysters of the Day, we like to bestow some sparkle with a spoonful of delicate and tangy Champagne Mignonette, and we go all-out in our Shellfish Platter, a grand extravaganza that partners the oysters with clams, mussels, crab claws, lobster, shrimp, and more. In either case, we serve our oysters on a bed of crushed ice, not only to keep them cold, but to keep them level, so you don’t lose any of the nectar, which can be as refreshing as a dip in the ocean. Come on in, the water’s fine. —Charlie 

Charlie Palmer Steak • The Four Seasons Hotel. • 702.632.5120 • CharliePalmer.com

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