Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Swedish Safari Part Deux: Oysters

Swedish oysters are like the U.S. women’s gymnastic team – a rare mix of power and elegance that combine to make them the world’s best.

Capital Cooking had the pleasure of exploring what makes Swedish oysters so special in a unique trip to the tiny seaside village of Grebbestad in Bohusland on the West coast of Sweden.  We were hosted by the charming brothers Per, Lars, and Per’s daughter, Hannah at their dockside cabin and oyster bed, Everts Sjobod.

The timber cabin at Everts Sjobod was built in 1880, and Pers and Lars purchased it several years ago from the original proprietor, Everts.  It is an extremely pleasant place to spend an afternoon eating after a boat trip.  Its main level is filled with marina paraphernalia including buoys, coils of rope, crab pots, and oyster-opening trophies.  Upstairs, long wooden tables face out to a wall of windows that invite a gorgeous view of Per and Lars’ collection of sleek boats, the sea and the soft Swedish sunlight.
When we signed up for an oyster “safari,” we anticipated a long boat ride to find the succulent shellfish.  We were surprised when Pers simply walked outside to the dock by his boat, grabbed a tool that looked like a garden rake with a net, and submerged it into water directly below the dock, right next to his boat.  
He scooped around in the sand for  a few minutes and, voila, he pulled out a net full of 6-7 large oysters, a collection of smaller ones that weren’t yet ready to be eaten, along with some seaweed, stones, and broken shells.
Apparently, the natural oyster bed right outside his dock is filled with more Swedish, and some Japanese, oysters than he can possibly sell.
 We proceeded to grab a bucketful of the beautiful shellfish and jump on one of our host’s classic, all wooden boats to saunter out into the gorgeous archipelago.  There, Pers and Hannah taught us the proper way to open a still-living oyster:  slot a sharp knife under its base, and without pulling with the arm (so as to prevent self-immolation in the case of a slip), squeeze the fingers holding the knife and slowly rock it up and down until the shell is breached.  Then cut through the muscle in the middle of the top half of the shell (which attaches the shell to the meat inside), open, and down the hatch!
While on our boat ride, we also stopped by to hand-pull some crayfish and crab pots from the sea, and we gulped scores of the oysters.
Grebbestad oysters are lauded by some of the top chefs in the world as some of the planet’s best, because the surrounding waters are extremely cold and mineral-laden.  As a result, the oysters grow slower than those raised in typical farms or in other seas, which gives the oysters plenty of time to absorb the minerals into their flesh.  They are not ready to eat until they are 4-5 years old and some can live up to 30 years old.  Thus, these are oysters best enjoyed by people who like a lot of flavor.  Washing them down with local Porter from Grebbestad brewery, with its chocolaty, rich finish was a perfect compliment to the oysters’ strong brininess.
The high-quality of the Grebbestad oysters is reflected in their price – they retail at $4-5/apiece, and in restaurants they fetch $10-15 apiece.  Thus, Pers and Lars are lucky men to be able to walk outside and grab their diet of 6-12 oysters from their “backyard” each day.
After the oyster safari, we weren’t done eating, as Everts Sjobord filled the upstairs tables with a feast of other fresh seafood:  crayfish, prawns, crab mussels, more oysters shellfish salads, bread, delectable Swedish cheeses, skogen dip, and, of course, lots of Swedish beer.  The crowd became boisterous (perhaps a little drunk?) in swapping stories before we headed off to another beautiful little town on the Swedish coast, Smogen.

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