Yesterday we joined a Tedx and Maryland DNR Adventure, to tour the oldest Crabhouse and an Oyster Farm. With my background as a Chef and Whole Foods Market manager; seeing and talking to the real producers/growers is always a delight. This adventure surpassed all our expectations.
We gathered at JM Clayton’s Seafood Company to start our day, and really got up close to one of the Bay’s most notorious resident – the Blue Crab. VERY lively [although not for long] and very colourful. (I now really understand how they got their name) Jack Brooks gave us quite a bit of insight on the Blue Crab; The claw colour differences, females mate only once, and about why the Chesapeake’s are so special – they have to hibernate – so they have to get all fat = succulent for us! We were then led into the crab picking rooms – AMAZING! The speed and cleanliness were simply astounding – I simply could not do the job these pickers were doing. With surgeon like precision they extracted the pair of Jumbo Lumps per crab, then proceeded to gather every bit of delicious crabmeat at robotic speed and accuracy. The following video has not been speed-up, THAT is how fast the pickers go! The meat is as sweet. delicate and moist as you could image – it needed absolute nothing to season or compliment it, and that is exactly how we sampled it.
Time for us to leave JM Clayton and head over to The Choptank Oyster Company. I have had their Choptank Sweets before but I was very excited to see the farm. On a beautiful bend on the Choptank River floats the oyster farm. Dozens of netted rectangular floats are laid out with millions of oysters in varying stages of growth. It takes from 18 – 24 months to get these oysters big enough for market.
As Kevin McClarren explained, it isn’t just seed the floats and forget. As with any farm, it is hard work. The floats have to be turned and the oysters tumbled regularly, and of course weather is always unpredictable. The farm is not only is growing oysters, it is actually helping to restore the Bay. The product is magnificent; Choptank Sweets (as they are called) are some of the finest oysters I have ever enjoyed. They are slightly sweet, due to the lack of excess salt, nor are they grainy or sandy. It is a very pure oyster flavour; I had mine just topped with some fresh crab! Kevin did offer us a Pepper Mignotte to drop on and it was delicious. Time was winding up and we had to head off to lunch, but it was a great educational experience.
I left the adventure with immense respect for the people responsible for bringing us this bounty of the Chesapeake. When I was a Chef, I would just go into the walk-in and get the tubs of crabmeat or the box of oysters I needed, without as much thought as maybe I should have, of the product’s journey to my kitchen. Maryland DNR has instituted a really good program whereby restaurants and markets can certify they using only Maryland harvested crab.
As to the title of this blog entry – Kevin from Choptank Oysters explained that this small place on the Bay is just such a very special place for oysters to grow and the crab industry to survive. But, it will take time and a lot of effort to help the Bay to come back.