It’s that time of year where things slow down. Thanksgiving leftovers have been depleted, our days have shortened, and the corporate world begins to use the phrase, “let’s circle back on it next year.” The cold snaps have started to sink in, and as much as the holidays have kept us occupied, we dream of slower movements, pies baking in the oven, and a pace that suits the mood.
When we relate the term “slow” with food, it equally insinuates the time in which we can reflect on what sustains us. Cooking slowly can be therapeutic. Eating slowly can be seen as a form meditation. And then of course, there’s the ingredient itself and the process it took to grow it, to nurture it, and do so with intention.
1. Slowness in preparation. Oysters have a way of taking on all “slow” meanings – from preparation, to consumption, to the years involved in farming them. Think about the time involved shucking and plating oysters. Sometimes we shuck them one-by-one amongst friends, other times we prefer the big reveal. But sprinkling salt or laying ice, working with an oyster’s grooves, and adding accoutrements can be an act of slowness. They’re also served using the most simple, traditional preparation: two hands and a knife. Many people I know can shuck at lightning speed, but a slower rhythm at home (without the pressure of hungry guests or a competition timer) gives us time to enjoy the process, and in the most honest form of preparation.
2. Slowness in savoring. Then comes the slowness in taste. Sweetness, earthiness, nuttiness…saltiness. Briny is a characteristic that most of us love in our oysters. Salt invigorates our taste buds AND carries trace minerals that help boost our immune system, promote brain function, and balance bodily fluids. Savoring an oyster is yet another act of slowness that calms our restless energy. I often like to call an oyster tasting “the salt ceremony,” likening it to the preparation of matcha and green tea tasting in Japan.
3. Slowness in growing method. The official definition, however, that makes an oyster a “slow food” is truly around its husbandry. Oyster farmers are committed to the environment and their communities, and it often takes them years to get their product to market. The oysters themselves are an organic ingredient, and they’re gastronomically individual (no single oyster is the same!).
I took the pleasure of having a salt ceremony on a cold November afternoon to devour some Chincoteague Salts and Watch House Points, both grown by Cherrystone Aqua-Farms. A Watch House Point is rock-heavy on the outside (it took plenty of patience prying these guys open!), but it was so delicate on the inside. They’re a sponge for flavor this season — think a light savory soy and vegetal bite with a frothy finish. Watch House Points are farmed off the bottom tip of the Eastern Shore and they chow down on plankton seeping out from a series of marshy wildlife refuges, making them a sizeable choice for those who prefer their oysters meaty and grill-worthy. This oyster is versatile enough for everyone’s style and while delicious on their own, I’d love to try broiling them with a spicy chili butter or using them for a warm oyster stew.
A slow shuck of a dozen Chincoteague Salts was where I got my briny fix. These oysters are a concentrated burst of brackish sea. The legend goes that Chincoteague Salts are the “Saltwater Cowboy’s oyster,” a fitting nickname for an oyster that grew up alongside the wild Chincoteague ponies on Assateague Island. They transported me to an oyster skiff—wrapped up in layers, breathing in the sea, and watching my hands shiver!
So there we have it — a slow season, with a slow food, in a slow way. It’s an act that fits the mood during the holidays. I encourage everyone to try it with a box from Cherrystone Aqua-Farms, delivered straight to your door.