Did you ever think you could eat flavorful, locally raised oysters while also helping cultivate new oysters? Well, you can, thanks to a special collaboration between Washington, D.C. Chef Jamie Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar, and Bruce Wood and Kenny Hobar of Dragon Creek Seafood & Produce, in Montross, Va.
For Chef Leeds, who has long embraced local and seasonal ingredients in her cooking, this project isn’t just about sourcing a superior product whose origin she knows well. “It will be unique because I will be involved in the whole life cycle of the oyster. Providing shells to help build the reef, selling the oysters and then turning those shells back into the water.”
Hank’s newest oyster is being raised in the Nomini Creek area of Virginia, on the Western Shore. Here, the water’s low salinity levels will yield product sweeter than other East Coast oysters. With a firm texture, and a lot of liquor, Hank’s oysters are perfect for baking, frying, or eating on the half shell.
Prior to the 1980s, the oyster was the greatest asset to Chesapeake Bay fisheries. Since then, over-fishing, disease, and pollution have shrunk the population to about 1% of what it once was. Today, preservation and growth of the existing oyster population, through projects like Hank’s oysters, is crucial to the continued health of the Bay. Oysters are filter feeders, cleaning about 2 gallons of water an hour as well as forming reefs, reducing erosion and providing an excellent habitat for supporting additional life in the Bay.
When will we be able to see Hank’s Oysters on the menu? Likely in 2011. But, if you want to shop for oysters now, Chef Leeds suggests purchasing unshucked oysters, looking for a “tight closed shell” to ensure freshness. When shucking at home, she also offers two important tips: “keep the point of the knife in the down direction. Use hand protection.”