Last week during the NCAA Final Four Tournament a bet was raised by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway offering a Meacham Country ham if the Wildcats lost, and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen countered the bet by offering local Connecticut Mystic oysters if the Huskies lost. The good news is the UCONN Huskies defeated the University of Kentucky Wildcats, but unfortunately Jepsen had to eat ham.
When the bet was countered, Attorney General Jepsen was enthusiastic about Connecticut’s local oysters because of a visit he made last summer to the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative with oyster farmer Stephen J. Plant.
Oysters are the largest aquaculture (under water agriculture) product in Connecticut, and because of the oyster industry Connecticut is now the leading state in the northeast for all aquaculture.
In addition to many health benefits, when I spoke with Stephen J. Plant from Connecticut Cultured Oysters he stated “oysters are the safest food product”. This was agreed upon by the Connecticut State Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Aquaculture. All farmed oyster locations are thoroughly inspected and regulated to prevent any contaminants, and the water requirements in Connecticut are among the strictest in the nation. Following all inspections, oysters sold from the farm to the retailer have a tag on each bag to track the oysters back to the farm where they came from; this tag is held for 90 days by the retailer to confine any incident of food-borne illness.
Oyster farming in general is good for Connecticut economy. In 2007 oyster farming generated over 15 million in farm-gate sales annually, and provided over 300 jobs in the aquaculture farms alone. The statistics are believed to have increased since. If Connecticut can continue to grow its oyster farms it is estimated to create more jobs for harvesters, retailers, restaurants, and marinas.
Unlike meat from mammals, all shellfish have some carbohydrate, and oysters in particular are over 30% carbohydrate in the form of glycogen. As glycogen breaks down to a simple form of sugar it adds to the sweet taste of oysters. Eastern oysters are lower in calories and fat than pacific oysters, and in general farm raised eastern oysters are equivalent to a leaner meat. They do contain some cholesterol however the benefits from minerals outweigh the cholesterol and fat content especially when added into a sensible meal or healthy diet plan.
From a nutrition point of view oysters are rich in selenium, copper and zinc, they are an excellent source of iron, and they contain a moderate amount of calcium, magnesium and potassium. Selenium is an antioxidant that is essential for disease prevention and good health, while zinc aids in cell growth and development, and is good for wound healing. Copper too is important for wound healing and healthy red blood cells. Oysters are also high in vitamin A that is important for skin, eyes and bone health. Eastern oysters are a good source of vitamin C that is essential for collagen formation. And oysters are very high in folate, and vitamin B12 that is important for breaking down food to release as energy, and essential for healthy red blood cells.
Six average steamed eastern farmed oysters are approximately 49 calories, 5 grams of protein, 4.5 grams of carbohydrate, and 1.3 gram of fat. This amount can be consumed as a low calorie appetizer, or add a few more oysters and serve with one or more cups of vegetables and a moderate portion of whole grains that are naturally low in fat, and you have yourself a very healthy meal.
Oysters are usually consumed raw however people with lower immune function or chronic disease states may want to cook them slightly. Below is a guide to opening oysters and consuming raw, and a recipe for baked oysters follows.
Opening fresh oysters by Stephen J. Plant, CT Cultured Oysters
Take the oyster and place it cup side down (flat side up) on a cushioned surface. A dishtowel or a few paper towels will work.
Every oyster has a gap between the two shells at the pointy end.
Take the oyster knife (a thin screwdriver can work also) and while holding the oyster down, wiggle the knife into the gap. An eighth of an inch should be enough. Be careful because you don’t want the knife to slide off the shell and into your hand, neither do you want it to plunge all the way in. Take your time and go easy.
Once you have the knife in, use the knife as a lever to pry up and “pop the hinge” on the oyster. Doing this on the edge of a table or counter will help. Often, you’ll notice water seeming out from between the shells once the muscle starts to give.
Once you’ve “popped the hinge”, slide the knife under the flat shell and cut the muscle free from the shell. Then slide the knife under the oyster to free the muscle from the cup side of the shell.
You now have the perfect “oyster on the half shell” ready to be slurped down. Enjoy!
Interested in learning more about oyster culture and its environment, please view Stephen’s website at www.ct-oysters.com and be sure to click onto Shellfish Growing Basics that will take you to “growing baby oysters”.
24 medium eastern farmed oysters
2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (preferably fresh)
2 tablespoons of fresh basil chopped
Fresh ground black pepper to taste (or my favorite garlic pepper)
Preheat oven at 375 degrees F
Scrub and rinse oysters, then place onto a baking sheet
Bake for around 2-3 minutes until the oysters open
Melt butter into a small saucepan and add the other ingredients
Remove the oysters from the oven and discard to top shell
Baste the butter mixture onto the oysters and return to the oven for another 2-3 minutes
Per serving: 100 calories, 7g fat, 5g protein, 25% Iron, and 10% vitamin C.
The following column was written by Kathleen S. LaBella, a registered dietitian, certified dietitian/nutritionist, certified health, fitness specialist and personal trainer. Kathy writes about Connecticut grown food, where you can get it, and will provide us with sample recipes. Her column appears every Thursday. You can reach her at email@example.com. Please send her suggestions for columns.
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