Foodie's Journal

By Linda Beaulieu

One of the neatest things I did this summer was to spend a perfect Sunday afternoon with Perry Raso of the Matunuck Oyster Farm. He's been harvesting shellfish since he was 12. Now 30, with a bachelor's degree in aquaculture from the University of Rhode Island, Perry goes out to his oyster beds in Potter Pond at least five days a week to harvest oysters, even in the dead of winter.

Since March 1, Perry has also been running the Matunuck Oyster Bar, a restaurant and seafood market on Succotash Road in East Matunuck. It was there that a group of 24 oyster lovers gathered for a tour of the farm, arranged by Cindy Salvato of Savoring Rhode Island, I'm talking about people who are oyster fanatics. They donned heavy rubber waders that came up to their chests and traipsed down the road and into the pond for a 15-minute walk to reach the oyster beds. I chose to stay at the restaurant, sitting in the sun on the deck, sipping on a Bloody Mary, and slurping a variety of oysters: the delicate Matunuck oyster from Potter Pond, the larger Ninigret oyster from Charlestown Pond, the salty Salt Pond Select and the small Cedar Island oysters from Point Judith Pond, and the subtle Watch Hill oyster from Westerly.

An hour later, this hardy group trudged back to the restaurant, exhilarated and hungry for raw oysters on the half shell. Brian Kingsford, chef-owner of Bacaro restaurant in Providence, said it was not an easy trek but definitely worth the effort. He was there to demonstrate how various oyster toppings can be used to spice up the raw shellfish.

According to Brian, oysters need very little if any help for them to taste wonderful on their own. The true way to understand a particular oyster is to taste it in its pure, original state. This gives you a taste of the environment from which the oyster came. Different waters produce distinctive flavors. But once you've found your favorite oyster, you can dress it up with various mignonette sauces. On this day, Brian made a classic mignonette flavored with red wine vinegar, and other sauces using mango vinegar, champagne vinegar, and cherry granita.

Perry hauled a huge plastic tub filled with oysters on crushed ice onto a long table set up on the outdoor deck. But to get a taste, we had to shuck them ourselves. Everyone was given rubberized gloves, an oyster knife, and a lesson on how to open an oyster. It was a great feeling when I worked the tip of my knife into just the right spot and felt the oyster pop open ever so slightly. We learned to be careful with how we held each oyster so as not to spill the delicious brine, and how to use the knife to separate the oyster meat from the top and bottom shells.

Oysters are reasonably priced at the Matunuck Oyster Bar, which will stay open this year at least through the fall. In the restaurant, they are only $1.75 each. In the seafood market, the retail price is $10 a dozen. That's less than a buck a shuck. Now that I know the proper way to shuck, the world really is my oyster.

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