Tuesday, April 29, 2014

New Zealand Offers A "New" Gigas

Kaipara Oysters
Oyster eaters in the U.S. are very familiar with the Japanese species crassostrea gigas, commonly referred to as the West Coast oyster.  You can find them available in oyster bars and restaurants throughout the States sold under a variety of names such as Hog Island, Naked Roy, Kusshi, and Totten Inlet, grown by different companies in different locations along the Pacific Coast.  These delicious half-shell treats were introduced to our West coast as early as 1920 from Japan and have been growing like weeds ever since.  They dominate the world market, supplying about 75% of the world's oysters, but that doesn't necessarily mean American palettes are familiar with gigas grown outside the U.S. and Canada.

That's all about to change though as I am happy to introduce two new gigas to our oyster repertoire: the Kaipara and Coromandel oysters from New Zealand.

Kaipara oysters are grown in Kaipara Sound located in the northwest region of New Zealand's North Island.  This body of water is New Zealand's largest and most isolated body of water making it the perfect spot to introduce sustainable oyster farms.  Good water produces good oysters, and the second-generation family-run farm uses intertidal growing methods to deliver deep cupped bi-valves with plump meat.  Kaipara Oyster Co. began the process of producing oysters in the 1970's, around the same time gigas were introduced into New Zealand to relieve pressure on native stocks.  Kaiparas are lightly salty, creamy, and finish with citrus notes and cucumber fragrance. 

The second new addition, Coromandel oysters, are grown in the Coromandel Peninsula, also located in the North Island region of New Zealand, and are touted by many oyster aficionados as being the best tasting gigas on earth.  The waters here are pristine and the flavors they impart on oysters are unparalleled.  The meats are buttery and plump and wildly briny for a gigas species.  These oysters finish with hints of melon and cucumber and brighten the palette with a zesty crispness.  

During the summer months there are always closures for East and West Coast oysters in the states due to spawning.  The scenario in New Zealand is the exact opposite; when we are sweating through the heat and racing towards refrigeration, they are donning winter coats and their shellfish are feeding heavily, making for fatty, delicious oysters.  It's always so interesting to me that oysters grown just a few hundred yards away from each other can vary so much in flavor.  Just imagine what a few oceans and thousands of miles can do for variation.  I can't get my head wrapped around the thought but, fortunately, I will be able to let my taste buds do the thinking for me.  I'll let the oysters do the talking for themselves, transporting me to the crisp, pristine waters of a New Zealand winter while the sidewalks melt outside in the D.C. heat.                

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