The Amazing Chesapeake Bay Oyster (it's hopeful comeback and it's deliciousness in risotto)

While D.C. itself is short on notable regional cuisine, we are lucky to live not too far from the Chesapeake Bay, which has given us crab cakes and the like, and a particular favorite of mine--oysters. This past weekend we indulged in a rich and creamy risotto made with local bluepoint oysters. I'm a bit of a risotto fanatic, and if I could eat oysters every day I would, so this recipe is basically (to paraphrase Ron Swanson) my fifth favorite food cooked inside my second favorite food.

The recipe came from For Cod and Country, Barton Seaver's new seafood cookbook. Since meeting Seaver and acquiring his book a month or so ago, the missus and I have eaten a good deal of seafood, all of it sustainable, and much of it local. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a free Seafood Watch smartphone app that has made shopping for sustainable seafood far easier.

The oysters you see above were local bluepoints, from the Maryland based Choptank Oyster Company. The vast majority of oysters you can buy have been farmed, and Choptank has a focus on sustainable farming practice. Oysters such as these get a "Best Choice" rating from Seafood Watch, while their wild-caught cousins in the Gulf rank not quite as high. The farming methods are fairly low-impact, and because they filter the water as they feed, they play a crucial role in their ecosystem, particularly in the now-blighted Chesapeake Bay.

Until fairly recently, the Chesapeake Bay oyster population was at the bottom of a severe population decline. Efforts by Maryland and Virginia officials and the Army Corps of Engineers have seen the beginnings of a comeback, though their numbers are still a fraction of the billions of oysters that filled the bay in the 1800s. Apart from the efforts to establish wild oyster preserves, oyster aquaculture companies such as Choptank are aiding in that effort. Although these oysters will be harvested and sold, during their lifespan they are filtering the water. Increased demand for oysters would lead these companies to expand their efforts and convince new companies to get in the game. In other words, start eating more oysters. Right now! Do it!

Anyhow . . . Seaver's recipe is great. My shucking skills have gotten rusty, but were soon up to snuff. I've made many risottos, but never with creme fraiche. It was decadently rich, and I really enjoyed the blend of flavors that included the oysters, their liquor, orange juice and zest, butternut squash, onion, fresh parsley and fresh tarragon. I've given you most of the ingredients, but not the recipe, as I'm feeling a bit lazy. In any case, buy the book, download the app, think about the fish you eat, so we can all keep eating fish.

1 comment:

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