That’s right: Food this week is an entertaining mixed bag, and that bag has a bottle of hot sauce in it. Other topics you’ll want to read about: a vintage Detroit cocktail, and farm subsidies to reward environmentally friendly farmers.
I just read a New York Times story about steaming oysters. They say it’s okay to eat the oysters that don’t open after steaming, but other recipes online say to discard them. Thoughts?
My thought was to call the person quoted in the story, who happens to be Virginia oysterman Travis Croxton, co-founder of Rappahannock Oyster Co. (Besides supplying oysters and running restaurants, the company is pushing for the revival of the Chesapeake Bay’s languishing scallop industry, as Tim Carman wrote recently.)
I’ll give you the bottom line right here at the top: Croxton says folks are wasting an awful lot of money by throwing out every bivalve that doesn’t open.
“People are overly sensitive with shellfish. There’s a lot of misguided information out there, and it just echoes back and forth,” he says.
If the shell remains shut after cooking, he says, “the muscle that holds the shell together is working. It’s alive. Or if an oyster, clam or mussel doesn’t open when it’s cooked, sometimes it’s dead — killed in the cooking process — but the muscle is just so joined to the shell that it’s not letting go.”
In theory, he said, “you could get an oyster that hasn’t opened up and it’s bad. But you’d know it immediately. Any dead oyster, clam or mussel, you’ll know it. It’ll smell to high heaven. You’ll smell it a mile away.”
What you do need to worry about, he said, is a raw bivalve that has opened up and won’t close when you tap the shell. That one’s a goner.
Croxton says a raw oyster should be meaty and plump. “If it’s all shriveled up and dry, then you shouldn’t eat it. After you cook it, in the random case where you have a dead one, you could see that it doesn’t look like the other oysters. It’s not plump.”
Halfway around the world, Australian fisheries biologist Nick Ruello did some some research on mussels, cooking and eating more than 30 batches of them in the process, and came to the same conclusion as Croxton; you can read about that here.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that many experts insist that a closed cooked bivalve is a risky one. The Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association’s recipe for steaming clams and mussels says to “discard any clams or mussels that do not open.” The Prince Edward Island Aquaculture Alliance says to “discard mussels that don’t open during cooking.” Neither group gives that same advice for oysters, because all their oyster recipes call for shucking, not cooking in the shell.
So what are you going to believe? You’ll have to weigh the evidence and decide that for yourself: Where bivalve shells are concerned, tt’s not an open-and-shut case.