My Seafood Summer would not be complete without discussing a Raw Bar. Raw Shellfish I suppose you could say, is the original American Sushi. I grew up enjoying raw clams with my dad and grandpa as a child. I think if you are not brought up on them, it is not something that young children would normally try or embrace. My sister(s) and I also used to open our own clams, too. I was quite an amusement when we used to go to summer picnics and we would shoulder up with the guys and open our own clams with the best of them! I have not done it in years now, so I have decided it is best left to the experts! In researching this newsletter for you, I discovered that the technique I was taught is considered unconventional, but it certainly worked well for our family. I learned that you open the clam from the back end. Many of the articles I found say you should slide the knife in the front edges and pry the top and bottom apart. I am partial to the smooth motion that I learned as it lends itself to speed! I like to enjoy the cherry stones – smaller clams with some red wine vinegar or lemon juice with cocktail sauce and a dash of Tabasco and extra horseradish, too!
Raw oysters, for me, was an acquired taste. We never had those as kids, so it was something I tried as an adult. I remember my first experience, I did not like them- I don’t need to describe to you what I thought of them. But being persistent, I tried again, and this time I enjoyed the luxurious, velvet like texture of them as they slip over your tongue. A true delicacy, much more pleasurable than the clam which as many of you know, can be chewy. Recently, the best oysters I had in a restaurant – not to be compared to the freshness of them right out of the Sound- was at Sorellina in Boston. If you check out their menu, it currently features the oysters with a Strawberry Granita. When I had them, it was a lime granita, which is a frozen fruit/shaved Italian ice, served with a champagne mignonette. The flavors were so delicate and the experience of the granita melting in your mouth is truly elevating! If you are in Boston, I recommend sitting at the bar and giving it a try! Having not been exposed to oysters as a kid, I never learned how to open them. Now that I work in the industry, I can tell you it is very challenging to find people with this skill. When you find them, you should treat them like an invaluable asset and never lose their contact information!
Raw bars used to be very popular at weddings and other summer events, then fell out of favor for a while, but now their popularity is on the rise again, but often with a new twist. Such as roving shuckers with buckets of clams or oysters on their belts, or servers carrying the “raw bar” with a strap around their shoulders like Candy and Cigarette vendors of old. Building a raw bar takes some skill, too. You start with a bed of cubed ice, then layer on the crushed ice for the shells to sit in. The ice bed creates drainage for water to be taken away from the shellfish and maintains the temperature for safe food handling. We recently did an oyster bar and had digital thermometers throughout the process of storage, shucking and display case to make sure the temperature and integrity of the product was maintained. We went through a lot of ice, lemons and sauce! Our esteemed shuckers opened 500 oysters each!
However you get to experience the raw bar, aside from the challenge of opening shellfish, it is very important to enjoy them safely. There are many warnings that come along with eating raw foods, and seafood is no exception. The consumer advisory should not be taken lightly, including safe handling in storage, display and cooking. It is also important to recognize when the shellfish may not be suitable for consumption. The shells should be closed, not cracked, and they should not smell of anything other than the sea. When in doubt, throw them out!
As we roll into Labor Day weekend. Be sure to take this opportunity to sip and savor the last few joys of summer and squeeze in any of the pasttimes that maybe you did not get a chance to enjoy. If having Oysters, they go well with a nice Chablis, Rose or even Sauvignon Blanc! And if you can’t open your own Oysters, give us a call, I might have a few skilled staff available to lend a hand!
Here is an excellent PDF for you to download, print and save for future reference.