The Big Bad Wolfe
The Chesapeake watershed is oyster country, but it wasn’t up until about a decade ago because of over harvesting, pollution and thinking that there was no longer the demand. The Chesapeake Bay, all 64,000 square miles was slowly dying the past 35 years. That was until a few Watermen brought in a Chinese oyster to try and revive the wild population. Several younger family members started doing the research, that in fact the Chesapeake needed saving and the oyster was the perfect bivalve for doing just that.
Oysters are natural filter feeders. This means they feed by pumping water through their gills, trapping particles of food as well as nutrients, suspended sediments and chemical contaminants. In doing so, oysters help keep the water clean and clear for underwater grasses and other aquatic life. One oyster can filter 50-60 gallons of water per day… sequestering nitrogen and phosphorus in their shells, that’s a lot of cleaning up.
A young band of resident Oystermen decided that local is better and set out to champion and save the local East Coast oysters. Using science and aquaculture they buy 1 millimeter oyster seeds growing them in a nursery until 15 millimeters is reached, then to the farm for about two years until they are ready for the plate. Using a rack and bag system they keep them off the bottom which protects the underwater grasses ecosystem and a few feet above they produce their own healthy ecosystem with tidal wave action that helps the oysters grow and provides for habitat benefits for babies; crabs, fish, eels and shrimp find food by cleaning the bags and shells. Now Aquaculture in the Chesapeake is growing at 24%. In fact, mature oyster reefs (which were over harvested) could boost Blue Crabs up by 80% bringing back another lagging industry of the signature crustacean . Harvesting 500 million pounds of seafood per year.
Hats off to Rappahannock Oyster Company, War Shore Oyster, White Stone, Little Wicomico, and True Chesapeake Oyster Company for creating a truly sustainable harvest of wild and farmed oysters eaten locally and shipped worldwide. Crop rows of oysters are handpicked, washed, refrigerated and shipped to restaurant tables in less than 48 hours. No more is the saying of R months valid.
At Hank’s Oyster Bar in DC (3 locations) there is a wide selection of oysters and seafood. But one of the trademarks is having Chef Leeds’ own signature oysters – first Hayden’s Reef a sweet oyster from Dragon Creek named for her son and now, Salty Wolfe a medium cup salty from War Shore near Chincoteague Island. This one is a tribute to her father who inspired her. The difference in flavor profiles are the locations – out in Chincoteague you are effected by the ocean and Dragon Creek is effected by less salinity and more fresh water as it is on a creek off the Potomac River. My favorite at this sitting was the Salty Wolfe, but I can be fickle, as I haven’t met an oyster I didn’t like. In the US we have oysters from Alaska to Baja on the west coast and from the Gulfshore all the way up to the Canadian Maritimes – there is a lot of tasting research awaiting me.