The briny underbelly of one of the world’s most respected seafoods.
James Beard Award winner Walsh (Are You Really Going to Eat That?, 2003, etc.) begins his journey in Galveston Bay, whose muddy yet plentiful waters he navigates to explain the nuts and bolts of oyster fishing. From dredging procedures to vibrio vulnificus, a deadly bacteria found in Gulf oysters, he lays bare the industry’s foundations while taking time to explain its competitive nature in a landscape of short seasons and state laws prohibiting outside imports. Walsh faithfully consumes mass quantities of his subject—raw, fried or even pressurized—and takes care to elaborate. He deliciously conveys the spectrum of oyster varieties and flavors, ranging from sweet and milky to salty and nutty. The further Walsh strays from his Texas roots—destinations include New Orleans, Ireland, New York City and Toronto—the sharper his accounts. It would have been nice, however, if he’d offered more elaborate descriptions of personalities he met along the way, in addition to the oysters they serve. Characters who particularly call out for fuller portraits include the New Fulton Fish Market’s grizzly fishermen and Don Quinn, founder of England’s Alternative Oyster Feast, a faux-festival instituted to rail against upper-class food snobbery. Aspiring gourmets will appreciate the recipes sprinkled throughout, from the legendary Oysters Rockefeller to the Grand Central Oyster Bar’s Pan Roast. Walsh borrows descriptions from gastronomes Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and M.F.K. Fisher to expound upon taste and historic feats of consumption—not necessarily a good idea, since they enhance but also and outshine his own depictions. Thankfully, backdoor discoveries soon recapture the spotlight. Oysters from the same region typically have similar taste, the author reveals, regardless of how varieties from Long Island, the Chesapeake and Washington are marketed. “It’s impossible to identify where oysters come from,” he learns from the eccentric biologist who owns the Seasalter Shellfish company in England. “Anybody can tell you anything about where their oysters come from and nobody can prove a thing.”
A helpful, amusing, no-nonsense oyster manual for the layperson.