Kachemak Bay, Alaska + Collaborative Mariculture =
The Best Oysters in the World!
Chef/Professor Cheryl Lewis
Four weeks before leaving for the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska, I got the call: “The oysters are in!” These are the farm-raised Kachemak Bay oysters. The industry, which started there in the early 1990’s, relies on the pure, cold glacier waters of the bay, near Homer. Oysters flourish in the bay because the water is so cold, although they can’t reproduce in such cold water. Mostly “mom and pop” farmers around the bay take pride in their work – and the pristine waters – to produce oysters coveted all over Alaska, and even have a place on the menu of the “holy grail” of the oyster world, the Grand Central Oyster Bar, in Manhattan.
The Kachemak Shellfish Mariculture Association has just opened a new facility in Homer, “designed to enhance the quality and commercial viability of the area oysters for shipment beyond Homer and South-central Alaska” (Global Food Collaborative). The group wants to collaborate with the private sector to start a new era for the Alaskan seafood industry. The remote family oyster farms around the bay have formed a co-op, and the new facility “coordinates the harvest, processing, and distribution of the oysters, insuring a consistent, quality product” (Kachemak Shellfish Growers Co-Op). The collaboration is the first of its kind in Alaska.
Marie Bader, of the Kachemak Shellfish Mariculture Association explains how the oysters are farmed: “Alaskan oyster farms use suspended culture techniques, in which oysters are grown in nets or perforated trays hung in deep waters. These suspended oysters can feed continually on plankton in the water and avoid exposure to hot summer suns, cold winter winds, mud and sand. As a result of this coddled life, Alaskan oysters are uniformly shaped with deep cuts and plump meats – perfect for serving on the half shell.” These oysters are also the safest in the industry, because of the cold, clean glacial waters, which rarely exceed 50 degrees, F.
I had to eat these oysters! Not fried, not stewed, but plain, on the half shell. They are pricey - $2.95 a piece – but I ordered a dozen…and then another. Pride kept me from ordering a third, which I’m kicking myself for as I write this. They taste wonderfully briny, and of the waters where they are raised. The requisite cocktail sauce was served, but I couldn’t bring myself to cover up the flavor of the oysters, and the pure Alaskan glacial waters. I slurped them up, unadorned, and found myself subtracting the count. I really should have ordered that third dozen. Well, next summer.
I’m going back to Alaska this winter – to sample the King crab in season. I won’t be able to witness it first hand, as I did the oysters in Homer. No “Deadliest Catch” desire here, although now that I think about it...hmmm.