Catching oysters with the “Fanø Oyster King” Jesper Voss
I would like to start off firstly with apologising to my readers for neglecting them – the past two months have been a whirlwind of internships, family obligations, Easter celebrations, influenza (twice!) and various online projects on the side. However, I have been fastidious in documenting each and everything I came across so that I could tell you about it in my blog. The first topic I wanted to talk about is oysters – and oh I do love them! But what I love even more is being able to go out into nature, peace and calm, and picking up the oysters and blue mussels from the shallow tide wading waters of Wadden Sea or “Vadehavet”.
Oysters are just going out of season around this time of year (the season for oysters is September – April), but we were on Fanø during Easter break back in early-mid March, and the oysters there were plentiful and good to eat. We booked an oyster safari or “østerssafari” with the “Fanø Oyster King”, Jesper Voss, and we were a robust group of 40 ready to brave the grey and drizzly early morning cold.
The hunt for oysters began at Halen, Fanø
Jesper Voss explained that it was normal to become disoriented when out on the shallow water banks – so it was important to keep a point of reference when going out on your own. It looked so flat and it seemed we could just keep walking on out into the ocean; it was difficult to keep track of the time passing or how far out we had come, and I felt a strong sense of this disorientation on the way back. It was shocking to realise how much distance we had covered (and that electricity mast I thought I was keeping an eye on, was not where I had thought it was)! My boyfriend was convinced that we were going the wrong way on the journey back, because looking down into the water constantly makes you forget where land is. The weather was a contributing factor though, it was foggy and rainy so it was difficult to see far ahead. We were glad we had a professional Fanø Oyster King with us on the trip, and warmly recommend him!
Before we began, Jesper explained a few things to us. The optimal oysters were about 7-8 cm long, and were often found attached to something else for anchor (in this case, blue mussels) due to the sandy conditions of Wadden Sea that they apparently thrive in. The oysters came from the Pacific Ocean, and there are several theories as to how they were introduced to the waters around Fanø – they are not native to the area, and began to proliferate over the past 10-15 years (probably due to a rise in water temperature, yay global warming). Jesper believes that ships coming from international trade routes through Esbjerg harbour have carried oysters larvae in their ballasts, which then began to thrive in the shallow temperate waters of the Wadden Sea. For these reasons, oysters in the area were thought to be a plague because it looked like they were killing the native blue mussels by taking over their habitats. It has now shown that the two species have developed a symbiotic relationship where they benefit from each other’s presence – oysters filtrate a lot more water per hour than mussels can, and mussels reproduce fast so they offer an ideal platform for the oysters to attach to without suffocating them.
The oysters weren’t very pretty – they were uneven, many were covered with sand that I couldn’t get out of all the crevaces and with all sorts of barnacles and muscles attached to the shells. So you would probably not find an oyster from Fanø in its original shell on a nice restaurant menu. Pearls have also been known to be found in these oysters, though they are one every 15,000. You can tell if an open oyster is alive by tapping on it and seeing if it shuts, which will mean it is alive – sometimes they even begin squirting water out in a stream! The same goes for blue mussels, which we were also allowed to pick up along the way (although they were a bit small). Its a good idea to have gloves, waterproof ones if you have them! The water is freezing cold and the shells razor sharp – at some point you will lose feeling in your fingers and that’s when you won’t be able to feel the shells ripping your hands up.
Once we got back to our meeting point on the beach, Jesper had already started up the grill and decked out a table with wine and toppings for the oysters that we now were going to eat. We were grilling them all instead of saving some to be eaten raw – Jesper told us that this was due to safety concerns this year about a certain virus in the the shellfish along the Danish coast.
The first thing he showed us was how to shuck an oyster. You have to hold the oyster in something like a tea towel, so that you don’t cut yourself, with the rounded side in your hand and the flat side on top. Take the shucking knife and stick it in the eye of the shell; an indent at the joint where the shells connect. Once the knife is in, pull the blade along the right side of the oyster towards the mouth end and cutting the muscle attached to the shell over. Don’t twist and turn the knife, it is best to slide it back and forth if you are having trouble getting it open. Because the oysters are as the are and were difficult to clean thoroughly, there was still a little debris inside from when the knife went in and from the ordeal of getting it open.
The first batch of oysters were opened, quickly cleaned with lemon water, and topped with garlic & ramsons or “ramsløg” butter from Kærgården and grated parmesan before being placed on the grill. I have only ever had oysters raw with lemon and Tabasco, and love it, so having them cooked was a good new experience. And to be honest, this one was to be my favourite version out of the three that he prepared for us.
The second batch were thrown onto the grill whole, and opened themselves during the cooking process. They were topped with gorgonzola cheese and placed back onto the grill rack to melt the cheese before serving. They were good, but the gorgonzola is overpowering for such a little morsel – but then I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with gorgonzola.
The last one was my least favourite topping with the oysters. Sun-dried tomato pesto and crumbled feta cheese on top of freshly opened oysters, then grilled. I prefered the simple ingredients of butter and parmesan; adding red pesto and feta became a bit too much for me and I would have prefered it on some bruschetta instead.
All in all, a fantastic outing! We were exhausted when we came home, but it was an great experience. We were looking forward to sharing the fruits of the sea that we had brought home in the buckets with the rest of the family for dinner that evening. Definately looking forward to going out again next time I find myself in the area, and hopefully meet the Fanø Oyster King out there! You can of course only book a tour in season, and we paid around 150 DKK per person for the trip with everying included.