Oysters | Nantucket, MA
Island Cooking

Treats in Shells

by Maryjane Mojer
Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm

I was not quite born in the Dark Ages, but was born before ultrasounds and knowing the gender of your child was the norm. Either maternal intuition or a needle on the end of a thread swinging side to side during the baby shower, convinced my parents that I, their third child, was a boy. Once I was born, after the shock wore off…or I like to think it did…my folks realized that they did not have a name picked out for me. At the time, Dad, a mechanic, co-owned a small fishing boat with some other men. The name of the boat was the Mary Jane. Seemed as good a name as any.

I’d love to tell you that because of this family lore I was always drawn to boats. I think that it’s simply because I live on an island. I do love boats and I love being by, on, or in the water. Like many who live here, I made a living on the water, scalloping, for about four years, and shucking for many more.

In high school, the dad of one of my closest friends, Kurt Erickson, had a boat rental place on Steamboat Wharf, just about where the fast boat docks now. What a gift that was. Every day, after work, we would gather at the shop and help clean up. Our payment was the use of any and all of the boats. It was really so very special and so appreciated. We knew how lucky we were.

I was reminded of this recently when I joined the Nantucket Land Council for an Oyster Farm tour with Oyster Farmer Simon Edwardes, Ecologist Emily Molden, Executive Director Cormac Collier, and Captain Blair Perkins and crew. Their knowledge and efforts towards improving the chances of keeping this place that is so loved and special safe and healthy is nothing short of admirable, and I am grateful that they are so generous with their time. Being on the water for a few hours that day was exactly what I didn’t know I needed.

As I slowly (and I do mean slowly) begin to make my way into the role of “old Nantucketer” I do have some very strong opinions about various things around the island. For example: whether or not the ponds should be opened of course they should) how often (Spring and Fall.) Should people direct traffic from behind the wheel of a car (they should not…and you know who you are). Does there need to be a slow lane on the sidewalk in town for those who want to saunter (absolutely.)

I also have decidedly definite leanings when it comes to fish and shellfish. As with most things, local is best. The fish that we have access to on-island from any and all of the independent Fish Markets is something special. I happen to be partial to Fresh Catch at Bartlett’s Farm because I see the care and integrity Joan and Jeff have in buying and selling great, fresh fish every single day. Their fish is handled right and well and this comes across in, not only the taste, but the smell and texture. Fresh as can be. They carry Fifth Bend Oysters from Simons farm.

Though it’s often said you should only eat oysters in months with an R, it is perfectly safe (and you should…in my opinion) to eat these oysters year round. Plus, enjoying them with a glass of Rosé? Well, there’s just no better way to celebrate the season. Raise a glass to fresh, local, and sustainable on Nantucket for produce, shellfish, and our neighbors who keep it going strong.

Oysters will keep up to a week refrigerated. Store flat with the cup or bowl of the shell down. If you’re transporting them or have them in a cooler on ice, keep the drain spout open. Oysters don’t care for fresh water and will not last long if immersed.

When I was speaking with Simon during our voyage, I told him that I could open scallops all day every day, but I found oysters intimidating. He said that all I needed was a good pair of gloves, a sharp, thick bladed oyster knife, and to let go of my fear. Challenge accepted!

Prepare your mignonette sauce up the same day to keep it fresh and bright. Open your oysters just prior to serving.

1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients. Let sit for at least a half an hour before serving. For a spicy twist, add a teaspoon of sriracha.

Compound butter can keep refrigerated for about five days, and frozen for about six months. I like to make it in one pound batches, divide it into four, and roll it like logs, wrapping it in wax paper then plastic wrap before freezing it.

As the fresh herbs start rolling in the door, and the pots on my deck are full and ready to be used and shared, one of my favorite things to make is compound butter.

A good rule of thumb is one half cup chopped herbs per pound of butter.

Soften your butter, and, in a food processor or mixer with a paddle, blend your butter and fresh herbs.

For Grilled Oysters, I love a mixture of chives and tarragon with a bit of fresh thyme. On a medium hot grill, place oysters, cup side down (aka flat side up!)

Close the lid and cook until the oysters open, which should take five to seven minutes. Remove from heat and carefully pop the top shell off, keeping as much liquid in as possible. Top each with a piece of compound butter, and back to the grill they go, lid closed, for about three minutes. Serve with a squeeze of lemon.

And, speaking of butter. I’ve mentioned before that one of the best cookbooks I have ever read is Josh McFadden’s Six Seasons; A New Way with Vegetables. In this amazingly smart and inspirational book is a butter that is so beautiful and special. I can’t wait to serve it this summer. Do yourself a favor and buy this book.

In the meantime, use your imagination and this recipe as a guide:

1/2 pound of room temperature, great quality butter. (Think small farm, small batch, regional.)
Small or torn fresh herb leaves including thyme, dill, flat leaf parsley, along with a bit of tarragon, sage and oregano.
1 fresh scallion sliced very thin
Petals from edible flowers such as Anise, Hyssop, Marigolds, Pansies,
Calendulas, Nasturtiums and Borage
Flake Sea Salt (Malden is great.)
Freshly cracked black pepper
Toasted Cracked Coriander seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds

On a simple serving platter or clean cedar board, smear the butter to 1/8 or 1/4 inch thick, using an offset spatula.

Scatter with herb leaves, sliced green onion, flower petals, salt and pepper, adding seeds if desired. Sprinkle with flaked salt.

Having fresh, just opened oysters, a simple mignonette sauce, a good, crusty baguette and a lovely, chilled glass of rose, such as Ruth Lowendoski Rose Cuvee Zero 2017 would make an ordinary summer evening extraordinary, as every summer evening should be.

The Nantucket Land Council will be hosting a few more Oyster Farm Tours this summer on July 31, August 14, and August 29. Advance registration is required and tickets sell out fast: do yourself a huge favor and go. Absolutely worth the time and the is money well-invested. You can reserve a spot at NantucketLandCouncil.org. Cheers!

Articles by Date from 2012