A Field Guide to Maine Oysters
A guide to a dozen oyster varieties, two inventions for shucking, and two notable accompaniments.
A Field Guide to Maine Oysters
Oysters are all about the flavor and texture they acquire from the waters and beds in which they grow. Here are a dozen of Maine’s better-known oysters on which to test your discerning palate.
Dodge Cove (Damariscotta River): A classic Damariscotta River oyster, sweet and juicy with lots of briny liquor.
Flying Point (Freeport): Beautiful greenish shells with deep, fluted cups; fresh, salty flavor.
Gay Island (Cushing): Small but meaty, with a clean, ocean taste.
Glidden Point (Damariscotta River): Hand-harvested; sweet, plump meat with deep cups brimming with briny liquor.
Johns River (South Bristol): Mossy green shells, cupped on both sides; full, fatty meat.
North Haven (North Haven): A big oyster, diver-harvested from a small saltwater pond; salinity varies with the seasons.
Norumbega (Damariscotta River): Nice wide shell; consistent flavor and well-developed meat.
Pemaquid (Damariscotta River): Big, juicy meat in lots of flavorful liquor; very similar to Glidden Points.
Taunton Bay (Mount Desert Island): Grown off-bottom in floating bags, so the shells are nicely rounded and clean; fatty meat with high salinity.
Wawenauks (Damariscotta River): Very large — four- to five-inch — shells; similar in flavor to the Pemaquids and Glidden Points.
Wiley Point (Damariscotta River): Super plump, hearty meats in deep, alabaster shells; grown in baskets near the water’s surface.
Winter Point (West Bath): A very briny ocean oyster with easy-to-open thick shells.
For the Love of Oysters
Pain is the mother of invention. In this case, the pain and blood of an oyster knife jamming into the palm of one’s hand one too many times. Two Damariscotta area oyster lovers have developed very different tools that open oysters without risk to skin, tendons, and nerves.
Larry Schneider developed the Aw Shucks! opener after he and wife Sherry opened a raw bar in King Eider’s Pub in Damariscotta in 1996. The only restaurant on the midcoast serving raw oysters at the time, King Eider was soon flooded with oyster aficionados, and its small staff couldn’t open the bivalves fast enough. The all-steel device consists of an arm outfitted with a blade affixed to a plate. An experienced user — and it doesn’t take long to become one — can pop the hinge of an oyster shell in a fraction of a second without spilling a drop of the oyster’s briny liquor. “People would ask where I got it. I said I made it,” Schneider says. “Then one day a customer asked, ‘Why are you running this restaurant when you should be selling those?’ ” The Schneiders sold the restaurant and have been manufacturing and selling the Aw Shucks! for the last seven years. To their surprise, their biggest customers are individuals, though they have sold the device to oyster bars worldwide. At $175 for the sink-mounted model and $215 for the cutting board-mounted model, this is a shucker for serious oyster eaters. (awshucksoysteropener.com)
Dale Dapkins fell in love with oysters in Florida, where he and a friend would go paddling into bays and fill their canoe with Apalachicola oysters. “We once ate 125 oysters in one sitting,” he recalls. He was introduced to Damariscotta River oysters when he bought a camp on Lake Pemaquid ten years ago. He eats a few every evening. “They are so much better than warm water oysters,” he says, “but I never did get very good with an oyster knife and I’ve cut myself badly many times.” He experimented with several devices, even going so far as to modify a French fry maker that “looked like a byzantine contraption for torture,” before inventing the Oy Boy. It’s a threaded carbon steel drill bit with cone tip that Dapkins designed with Norman Schmotzer, president of B&A Manufacturing, a Palm Beach manufacturer of industrial drill bits, and an oyster lover himself. “The threads are important because they pull the bit into the shell, which puts pressure on the two halves to divide,” Dapkins says. It can take the Oy Boy anywhere from a few seconds to a minute to pop the hinge, but at forty dollars for six bits, it inexpensively erases the hazards of oyster shucking. (oyster-opener.com)
Here’s another sign that Maine oysters have come into their own: They are inspiring new products, some made with oysters, some made to accompany them:
Bloody Oyster Cocktail, WaldoStone Farm. Zesty, thick, and full of flavor, this tomato juice cocktail’s signature ingredient is Damariscotta River oyster broth. Kayli McKeen combines it with hand-juiced fresh tomatoes, beets, parsley, lettuce, lemons, and limes, and artisanal horseradish to create a refreshing drink that is good on its own or with vodka. It’s sort of a healthy, and much better-tasting, Clamato. McKeen, the wife of Pemaquid Oyster Company owner Jeff McKeen, also makes a line of oyster mignonettes. waldostonefarm.com
Pemaquid Oyster Stout, Marshall Wharf Brewing Company. Master brewer Dan McGovern tosses ten dozen Maine oysters into the wort, the sticky, sweet liquid that is boiled as part of the beer-making process. Originally made once a year to be served at the Pemaquid Oyster Festival, the rich, chocolately stout is now available by customer demand most of the year at the company’s Belfast store and tasting room and adjoining restaurant, Three Tides. marshallwharf.com