Let’s talk oysters. Most people either love or hate these sexy, slimy, tasty little bivalves. You can eat them raw, fried, grilled, dipped in sauces, roasted, in soups. Here’s something you didn’t know, though; variety and farming methods in the oyster industry can be compared to a big trend Chicagoans have wholeheartedly embraced – that of the craft beer industry.
Don’t believe it? All right, listen up. There are five species of oysters in the world, representing a number of oyster types that you may know if you’ve ever visited an oyster bar. Pacific oysters are small, creamy, and meaty. Kumamoto oysters, from Japan and the west coast, are small and sweet and nutty. Atlantic oysters, often referred to generically as “blue points,” actually include a number of types, including Wellfleets, Malpeques and Beausoleils. They’re considered to be saltier, larger, and crisper. European flats are common overseas, raised in farms on both coasts. And Olympia oysters, native to the west coast, are tiny, metallic-tasting oysters often sold in Puget Sound and British Columbia.
As with grapes for wine, a mere 10-mile separation between oyster beds can produce different flavor variations. In fact, there are dozens of variations, and people with well-developed palates can indeed detect and enjoy them. Oysters from Long Island’s Great South Bay taste much different from the ones you get in northeastern Cape Cod. Blue points, for example, named for a Long Island town, are considered to be mild, salty and meaty. These flavor profiles can be affected by the toughness of shells, the roughness of water, microclimate conditions (bays, lagoons, and coves), and more.
In fact, oysters often come with brand names now. You can check out Beach Blondes, from Ninigret Pond, billed as a smooth oyster with understated salt and sweet flavors originating from a calm lagoon; Nauti Pilgrim, a Plymouth Bay-sourced delicacy; or Naked Cowboys, which are wild, briny oysters from Long Island Sound. The oyster industry is as vibrant on the coasts, with small-scale harvesters cultivating unique flavor profiles, as craft beer is here.
In Chicago, we’re lucky to be central to both coasts. We also have Catch 35, the seafood restaurant that is expert at purchasing, storing, shucking, and serving oysters. Catch 35 purchases only cold-water oysters from U.S. sources that have a relationship with known ethical harvesters. They’re always fresh here, never frozen, and kept clean. Catch 35 is very mindful of the dangers of raw shellfish as well, and follows all regulations to make sure that oysters are safe to eat.
Catch 35 offers a smaller selection of oysters because its chefs want to offer the freshest daily and weekly harvests. They understand that, because oysters are usually eaten raw, the source of oysters is even more important. They serve oysters in a variety of ways – with homemade cocktail sauce, with a classic French mignonette sauce with shallots, on the half-shell, or fried, with Sriracha aioli and lime.
U.S. oyster bars pioneered the pairing of oysters with alcohol – both east and west coast types. If you’re eating blue points, try a crisp beer or Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re slurping down west coast ones, consider a Chardonnay. Catch 35 features a large, curated selection of wines, champagnes, and cocktails that pair well with every type of oyster.
Catch 35 has two Chicago-area locations. If you love oyster – or if you’d like to learn about the complex and tasty world of oyster harvesting – come enjoy the freshest ones here. As with craft beer, there are so many emerging tastes you’re sure to discover one you like.
35 S. Washington, Napervile
35 W. Wacker Dr., Chicago