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Size matters: from dime-sized to delish

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

Not all oysters are the same. Some grow big. Others stay small.

We harvest all sizes at Big Island Aquaculture.

Most of ours can be enjoyed at the raw bar, a sensory experience where you can inhale the salty aroma while slurping the sweet and briny oyster taste. It’s up to you whether you want to add a squirt of lemon, cocktail or hot sauce.

Use the bigger guys, those in excess of 4 inches, in soups or stews or for oysters Rockefeller. That fancy name refers to oysters on the half-shell topped with butter, herbs and breadcrumbs and then baked or broiled. If you’re making oysters Rockefeller yourself, the variations are endless. Spinach, liqueur and cheese are popular additions.

The bigger oysters can also be grilled or deep fried for a po’boy. Dredge them in cornmeal and flour before frying.

All of our oysters receive babying from us from the get-go. Let’s say we put 100 oysters to start in one of our floating cages, which protect them from the sandy sea bottom (who wants to bite into grit?). They’re only about the size of a dime at the start.

In two weeks, we check them, and guess what? About 60% show the growth we’d expect, but 20% are smaller than that and the other 20% are ahead of the curve. So, we don’t just dump them back in. We divide them up. If we don’t, the faster ones will slow down the average-to- slow growers. The slow growers will also affect the average growers.

We constantly cull to make sure we’re on top of our oysters’ growth. The most growth comes in the first two to three weeks, but after that, we check on them every few weeks for as long as 18 to 24 months.

From farm to fork, the oysters you’re eating have been handled by us 15 to 18 times. Some of that involves tumbling that we do with a two-pronged approach. We rely on a mechanical cylinder tumbler that rotates and sprays the oysters, mimicking the ocean. We also get a little help from Mother Nature. Our floating cages are designed to tumble them with the natural movement of the wave and wind.

Tumbling strengthens their shells, which in turn prunes them into a more desirable shape. Tumbled oysters are plump. If you’ve ever seen an oyster that resembles a skinny banana, it hasn’t been tumbled properly.

Our chefs like our oysters because they can make a deeper cut; our oysters actually “cup up.” The shells are brighter, too. They have a clean polished look. We’re proud of the shuckability of our oysters. If they aren’t tumbled, their shells can become brittle and fall apart in your hands. We intervene to make it easier for our chefs and customers to get to the prize — the creamy meat inside.

Nothing about sustainably harvesting oysters is rushed. In a tech-savvy world, there’s something special about having to depend on nature, which is without its own Google calendar. The farm-to-fork process that starts with that dime-sized seed and culminates with a portly delicious oyster on your plate takes time and patience. Thankfully we have both at Big Island Aquaculture.


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