Sweet and plump, crisp and crunchy, salty and succulent, pick an adjective for the freshly shucked Mahurangi oyster in winter, and they all apply. Oysters love the cold, and though they’re good to eat in the autumn and spring, they’re at their best right now. And Mahurangis are the best, alive and straight out of their uniquely pretty Pacific shells.
Lisa and Andrew Hay (otherwise known as Nod, Skipper or The Oysterman) have farmed Pacific oysters in the Mahurangi River, the home of oyster farming in New Zealand, for over 20 years. It’s a family affair, a love affair with the oyster and the ocean that doesn’t get old. “We liked the non-interventionist technique of oyster farming, they grow with the flow of nature, each stick of oysters its own marine village of blennies, crabs, shrimps, whelks and worms,” enthuses Lisa. “We love eating oysters. The first one of a new season still takes me to the low tide of a rocky shore, with seaweed between my toes.”
Fresh oysters are a whole food, secure in Mother Nature’s own brilliant packaging, and they pack plenty of goodness. So much, in fact, that Lisa reckons it’s possible to live on a diet of oysters and stout (or water) alone. Andrew says, “It’s amazing the number of people who are surprised to find they actually love oysters, shucked and eaten straight from the water. A freshly opened oyster has about five discernable flavours that start to homogenise into a thing called “oysteriness” after approximately 24 hours. There’s no comparison to eating a freshly shucked oyster. You really don’t want to eat the dead ones in plastic pottles. Just don’t compromise.”
Because Lisa and Andrew don't actually come with every oyster they sell, we clearly need to learn how to open our own oysters and it's with this in mind they've launched the Shuckle Ferry, a converted Northland dinner cruise boat that will take you on a two-hour oyster farm tour, during which you will learn how to shuck oysters. And eat oysters. While sipping champagne, or stout, on the beautiful Mahurangi River. Come and learn how oysters grow from "spat to fat", and get an understanding of the cycle of the tides, so vital to an oyster's life. The ferry leaves from Scott's Landing, can take up to 16 on each trip and is open all year round. Book your party online here.
You can also order your Mahurangi oysters directly from the website and they will deliver them fresh to your door. Or find them (along with their new oyster soup) at Farro Fresh. I shucked my own Mahurangi oysters (see below) for 4 Bites, and while all they really need is a squeeze of lemon, a little mignonette or a dash of hot sauce, I’ve looked to a few classic oyster dishes for recipe inspiration.
The seafood cocktail sauce gets an upgrade with a Japanese horseradish bite. Or you could make it a chipotle cream sauce and serve the oysters on corn chips.
Meat and oysters have always gone together — think the carpetbag steak, steak and oyster pie or angels on horseback. I've used lamb and broken the idea down into quick to cook skewers. A seasonal root vegetable soup, made with the reserved liquor from shucking, garnished with fresh oysters to serve, is a wintery winner, and Oysters Rockerfeller and Kilpatrick are obvious grilled choices, but who doesn't like garlic butter and a little grilled cheese?
Bottom line, oysters are bloody good for you! So get stuck into them.
Want to learn how to shuck Pacific oysters?
We've got step-by-step instructions on shucking oysters from the experts themselves.