Wine Has Terroir; Oysters Have "Merroir," and We'll Pay More For It

Oyster Tasting 001.jpg
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Texas oysters are once again getting their due recognition.
"We had a vastly more sophisticated oyster culture 100 years ago than we do now," said Robb Walsh over a plate of six Gulf oysters yesterday afternoon. Walsh was speaking on a panel of winemakers on pairing white wines with oysters, but the lost history of Texas oysters was proving far more fascinating.

Much as grass-finished beef has a different flavor to it, so do oysters that are grown in one reef and moved to another to be "finished." It's a method that French oystermen have employed for ages, and one that Texas oystermen once did a century ago.

Those same Texas oystermen also knew which reefs, bays and estuaries were best for brinier oysters, fatter oysters or creamier oysters. At the turn of the last century, Walsh said, the Galveston Daily News was in the habit of publishing 3,000-word articles on the differences between Pepper Grove oysters and Resignation Reef oysters.

And you thought food-wanking was a recent phenomenon.

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Walsh, right, said that diners are overwhelmingly choosing Texas appellation oysters where they can.
It was far from food wankery, however, to appreciate local and seasonal foods 100 years ago; it was simply normal. That appreciation -- and our oyster industry -- was changed forever when commercially minded Texas oystermen realized that they could ship their giant Gulf oysters all over the country to places like Maryland shucking houses where our fat, sweet oysters replaced the smaller, brinier oysters from more northern waters.

The result today, said Walsh, is that "three-quarters of Texas oysters are exported." People don't pay much for them, because there's nothing that special about a standard Gulf oyster. Except that there is.

"These are some of the last wild oysters in the world," said Walsh. While most oysters in other regions are farmed, ours still come straight from the same reefs they always have. "Pepper Grove oysters were prized during the Civil War," Walsh said. And they're beginning to be once more, as more diners rediscover the pleasures of eating local foods and more oyster fans discover the "merroir" that comes from our own waters.


Location Info

Oceanaire Seafood Room

5061 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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10 comments
Brazos
Brazos

We've been eating oysters at Rouxpour and they are very briny and tasty.  They oystermen must be moving them to the saltier areas  of La. after harvesting.  Very, very good oysters.

David
David

This whole premise that one East Galveston Bay oyster is better tasting than the one in the next reef over is inspired marketing hype. For one thing, salinity varies significantly year over year. Example: This year, much of Trinity Bay is fresh. Same time last year, it was as salty as the open gulf. Second, East Bay's hydrology is much changed from 100 years ago given the greater flow of salt water that has resulted from manmade features including Rollover Pass, the Intracoastal Waterway and nearby shipping lanes. So, Pepper Grove today is not what it was a century ago.

If the marketers want to be honest, call the oysters what they are -- large, premium and delicious East Bay oysters. Enough said.

Aaron
Aaron

At the Landry's chain Oceanaire, you will be paying two bucks a pop for your "named" Galveston Bay oysters.  Enjoy paying $24/dozen.  More money then sense in the Galleria.

Guest
Guest

ugh. loogies on a half shell.

Stusnow1
Stusnow1

Great article. Texas, late as ever I suppose, is doing what I have seen in France. The french have something like 15 classifications of oysters. I am new to the European oysters but the ones I ate in Brittany a couple of summers of ago were excellent and quite different from Gulf Coast oysters, which I love if they're truly fresh and not "jacked with," like the "gold band" ones that Landry's, Babin's, etc., serves most of the year. Those are injected with fresh water at the processing plant and taste like nothing.Restaurants pay a premium for those because they "guarantee" that they will not make you sick. 'Til you taste one.  Pappas restaurants will not serve you an oyster without putting it under tap water first, even if you ask them not to. Greeks should stick to squid and lamb. Yeah, nice and luke warm with absolutely no salty flavor. Anyway, nice to see that Robb Walsh is out of the closet! Thanks, Katherine.

Txjboy
Txjboy

In 2010 Pappa's Seafood and Pappadeaux offered oysters for $3.95/doz. all season.  I thought they were quite tasty.  Where were these oysters harvested (if anyone knows)?

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

Only a few more weeks to eat raw oysters from Texas!  I better get busy.  Those look delicious.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I don't know if Texas is "late" so much as finally rediscovering the same techniques and classifications that we once used abundantly. :)

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I don't know about Pappas in particular, but you can always ask to see the bag tag -- pretty much any sack of oysters will have one -- and that should tell you.

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