The Shucking truth about Oysters
Breaking it down with an expert
Story by Kris Beasley and Chef Stephen Phipps
Photos by Kris Beasley
When the month of November rolls around and it starts to get cool outside, I get a hankering for oysters. To me, roasting oysters on an open fire outside is one of life’s greatest pleasures. However, it wasn’t until I moved to Southport over 20 years ago that I experienced my first oyster roast. In hopes of spreading the oyster love, I wanted to investigate all the different varieties of oysters and better understand the differences between each.
I knew the perfect person to guide me in my quest would be Chef Steven Phipps of Mr. P’s Bistro and Oyster Bar. He suggested going to Eagle Island Fruit Stand and Seafood, located at 2500 US-421, Wilmington, NC 28401. It is just past where you turn right onto the Isabella Homes Bridge. If you have never been to Eagle Island you need to go. It is the oldest store in Wilmington. It is a special place. You can get just about anything you need. What makes it special is it seems to have been stuck in time. Somehow it managed to stay the same and not succumb to modernization. It is like the old days. You can get a Sun Drop in the glass bottle, shelled butter beans, boiled peanuts, fishing lures, cooking utensils, hand dipped ice cream, local produce and seafood! Husband and wife, Earl and Marie Flowers, established Eagle Island in 1965. Their son, Norris Flowers now runs the store. “It was a small shed with a dirt floor across the road where the truck store is now. They made $13 on their first day.” recalls Norris. They started selling seafood and oysters out of the back of a pick up truck in 1969. They have been in their current location since 1985, which now houses a separate fish market. “We have customers from all over, Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem that come to get oysters from us.” explains Norris. Over the years, the Flowers family has formed relationships with companies up and down the east coast to offer a variety of oysters to their customers.
Mr. Norris introduced us to Antonio Cruz, to help us sample the oysters available that day. (Normally, they would have more varieties, but the heavy rains have closed down several sources). Antonio is the oyster guy at Eagle Island. As we approached the cooler where the oysters are kept, Chef Steve quietly said, “Oysters are my life!” I smiled and said, “I knew you were the right man for this job!”
You can purchase oysters by the: Bushel, 1/2 Bushel or Peck (which is a 1/4 bushel). Eagle Island will wash your oysters, which is a real perk! The shell of the oyster is usually covered in mud and you definitely want to rinse that off before you eat them. Of course, you can do it yourself with a garden hose. But Eagle Island has a special machine that spins the oysters, while they spray them down. And there is no extra charge – nice!
Origin: Chesapeake Bay
Taste: Slightly Briney
Best: Oyster Rockefeller and Baked with toppings
Origin: Southern Virginia
Best: Soups, Stews and Chowders
Chef Steve says that Topsail oysters are the best bang for your buck! They are offered as singles (more expensive) or clusters. Clusters are great for an oyster roast.
You can also purchase oysters from several other local places including: Haag & Sons, Clem’s Seafood and Pelican Seafood.
There are many ways you can cook oysters. Go online and do some research and see what cooking techniques inspire you. Invite some friends over and try roasting them over a fire. Try different varieties and see whether you prefer salty or buttery, big or small, roasted or steamed. Chef Steve offers this recipe:
Oyster Bruschetta with Sage
2 dozen shucked oysters
12 slices french bagette
1/2 cup olive oil
1 TB minced garlic
1 tea ground black pepper
1 bunch sage leaves
12 slices Prosciutto ham
12 pieces of Brie cheese
Preheat oven to 375. Combine olive oil, garlic, and black pepper in a small bowl. Brush both sides of each bread slice with the oil mixture and arrange on a baking sheet. Place one slice of Prosciutto and one sage leaf on each slice of bread. Top with two oysters per slice and one piece of Brie. Bake 15 minutes, until cheese melts. Enjoy!
And you can always skip the labor and head into Mr. P’s Bistro and Oyster Bar to sample some of Chef Steve’s genius creations. My personal favorite is, Oysters Bienville – freshly shucked oysters topped with shrimp, shallots, garlic mushrooms and parsley in a sherry sauce and baked on the half shell. Or Oysters Rockefeller – topped with spinach, bacon, cheese and shallots, topped with his roasted red pepper hollandaise and baked! They also offer raw and steamed oysters too!
Bottom line… Go get you some oysters!