Discovering Morro Bay oysters

Neal Maloney farms Pacific Gold oysters in Morro Bay, CA, a prime spot for these little treats

  • Harvest time? Neal checks oysters for size and shape.

    Checking oysters

    Photo by Chris Leschinsky

    Click to Enlarge

Then there’s the water itself, full of minerals washed down from the volcanic soil around the bay, which deepens the oysters’ melon-cucumber flavor. Fresh water flowing into the bay from aquifers and creeks adds sweetness. More seasoning comes from nutrients in the deep ocean shelf a little way out, arriving with the twice-daily tides.

The shallowness of the bay factors in too. During low tide, Neal explains, the bags end up resting on the mud, forcing the oysters to clamp shut so they don’t dry out. Once the tides seep back over them, they open up to feed on plankton and absorb oxygen from the water. This open-close routine strengthens the oyster’s ability to seal tight and keep out bacteria—which gives it a longer shelf life.

“The bay does a lot of the work for me,” Neal says. But definitely not all. He and his two employees here on the platform—lanky, laid-back twin brothers in bright orange overalls—shake all the bags several times a week, in addition to what the waves do.

As Neal talks, the twins dump harvested oysters from their mesh bags onto a long steel worktable slick with salt water and gray mud, while Rod Stewart belts “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” from a yellow radio as sturdy as a Tonka truck. They begin sorting: Oyster sizes run from 2-inch “extra-smalls” to hefty 7-inch “larges,” which go mainly for barbecuing, since the meat shrinks as it cooks. Every now and then a “cowboy” will land on the table, a 1-pound monster about a foot long. One of them can feed four, and forget about slurping—you need a knife and fork.

 

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