Sep 27, 2012

Growing Oysters In Hawaii

Growing oysters in Hawaii's ancient fish ponds 
Loko i'a, Hawaiian for fish pond, were used for the 
fattening and storing of fish for food in ancient Hawaii. 
These fishponds were typically shallow areas of a reef flat 
surrounded by a low lava rock wall (loko kuapa) built out from the shore. 
Several species of edible fish (such as mullet) thrive in such ponds, 
and Hawaiians developed methods to make them easy to catch. 
Few remain today, although Molokaʻi offers 
the best opportunities to view a Hawaiian loko.
Click on photo to view larger
There is a huge demand for oysters in Hawaii. For now, oysters are shipped here from Washington state, where the oyster industry is a $200 million-a-year business. Because of ocean acidification, which has affected oyster larvae from forming in Washington state's waters since 2005, oyster hatcheries are beginning to move to the cleaner waters of Hawaii to raise oyster seed starters. Baby oyster larvae from Hawaii are then sent back to Washington for further growth. One of these new hatcheries is located on the Big Island, Kona Coast Shellfish, the largest producer of oyster and clam larvae in the world. Over the past two years, this hatchery has proven to be a big success, producing oyster larvae in one year, twice as fast as the seed previously produced in Washington hatcheries. So why not just grow oysters here in Hawaii you may ask. Good question, people are actually doing that. You can read about it by clicking on the link below, this story was published in the 9/19/11 issue of the Honolulu Star Advertiser. ( It states that Hawaii is seriously looking into growing oysters in our ancient fish ponds. This business has great potential for Hawaii because the sale of oysters and clams could be a multimillion-dollar industry here. There are dozens of Hawaiian fishponds that could be suitable for growing oysters. Research has shown that you can get a market-size oyster, growing it in a Hawaii fishpond, in five to six months. On the mainland it takes two to three years!

There is a huge variety of fresh oysters available, with over 70 oyster varieties on the West Coast and 60 on the East Coast. Each of these oysters have been given a flavor profile. Oyster tasting has been compared to the experience of wine tasting. Oyster connoisseurs discuss the salinity and complexity of the oyster, the finish, the hints of melon or cucumber, etc. you get the idea. The bottom line is what oysters are available at your supermarket here in Hawaii, how do we buy them, store them, open them, and cook them... read on: 

What To Look For When Buying Fresh Oysters: 
Oysters in the shell must be sold LIVE by law. They should feel heavy and full of water. Live oysters will be tightly clamped shut, or will clamp shut when tapped. Dead oysters will have loose shells and must be discarded along with those which have broken shells. This is because loose or broken shells make the oyster susceptible to bacteria growth and could make you very sick. Remember, oysters are alive and need to breathe, so never seal them tightly in a plastic bag, this can kill the oysters. If you see oysters or clams being sold with broken shells or in tightly sealed plastic bags, call the heath department. For detailed information about infection from consumption of raw shellfish, check out this website Another website to check out is

How To Store Fresh Oysters:
Keep the unopened oysters cold but do not store in water! Sandwich a layer of live oysters between two (2) beds of ice. Place them deep side down (to retain their juices). Never immerse live oysters in fresh water or melted ice - it will kill them. Oysters stored this way will keep for 2 days. This is the method to use if you plan on using the fresh oysters soon. The flavor is best when fresh oysters are consumed within 24 hours of purchase.

Store live oysters in the refrigerator at 40˚F. if they are not to be used immediately. Place them deep side down (to retain their juices) in an open container. Cover the oysters with a damp towel or layers of damp newspaper. Oyster store this way will keep up to 5 to 7 days.

How To Open Fresh Oysters:
Open (shuck) shortly before serving - not more than 2 hours. The colder the oyster, the easier it is to shuck. Keep oysters cold at all times, partly for safety and very much to enhance flavor and texture.

Traditional Method:
Hold an oyster firmly with a cloth in one hand and the hinged end towards you. Insert a knife in the area where the two shells meet and prise open with a twisting action. Slide the blade along the inside edge of the shell to sever the muscle holding the shells together. Cut the muscle attachment to lower shell. Turn the oyster meat for best presentation. The best way to serve raw oysters is on a platter of crushed ice, or sometimes you see them presented on a bed of seaweed. If they are cooked, you can serve them on a bed of rock salt, or raw white rice.

Microwave Method:
For the novice, and easier way to open oysters is via the microwave oven. Put six oysters on a plate, cover with wax paper and microwave at full power for 55 seconds. Let them sit in the microwave oven, power off, for another 15-20 seconds and remove. The meats won't be cooked, only warmed, and the shells more amenable to opening by whatever method you choose. Once opened, chill before serving.

Oven Method:
When oysters in the shell are suddenly exposed to extreme heat, they will automatically open their shells. Place half a dozen oysters in the shell in a pie pan and put the pan in a hot oven for a few minutes. Remove quickly and you will see their shells have opened enough to insert a small sharp knife. Probe gently on the inside upper shell and cut the muscle from the shell. Pry off top shell. Then cut the muscle from the lower shell. If you want to serve the oyster on the half shell, quickly place them in the refrigerator with the oyster meat still in the lower shell. Chill 15 minutes before serving, and the oyster will be fresh and delicious.

Oyster Recipes:
Grilled Oysters with Mango Mojo Sauce
Oysters are commonly cooked in their shells on a barbecue grill here in Hawaii. The heat from the grill steams the oysters and pops the shells open, while poaching the oyster inside, then you add the mango mojo sauce. They make a great appetizer, but who can just eat one.

32 large fresh (live) oysters in the shell

2 cups mango puree (either fresh in season or from frozen pulp, available at most supermarkets)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1 red onion, diced
1/4 cup garlic, chopped
1/4 cup ginger, chopped
1 tbsp. sugar
1 bunch cilantro, minced
2 cups light olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
lime wedges for garnish

Place mango puree in stainless steel bowl. Add red onions. Mix in lime juice, orange juice, ginger and sugar. Lightly simmer garlic in olive oil for 5-6 minutes. Add to mango mixture and blend well. Add minced cilantro. Season to taste, and set aside. Meanwhile, preheat barbecue grill. Scrub the oyster shells under cold running water with a brush. Discard any open shells, as the oyster is dead and not edible. Place oysters (cup side on bottom) on hot grill about 4 inches from hot coals. Cover barbecue with lid, open any vents, and cook 8 to 10 minutes (depending on size) or until shells begin to open to indicate doneness. Remove all oysters when the first one opens. I always personally check over all live oysters that I buy to make sure they are alive when purchasing. Some shells will not be opened, so some prying will be necessary. Using a mitt or towel to protect your hand, remove the oysters from the grill, taking care not to spill their juices. Pry the oysters the rest of the way open with an oyster knife, paring knife, or screwdriver. Sever the muscle that connect the shells, leaving the oyster on the half shell. Transfer onto a serving platter. Serve with a little mojo sauce over each oyster, and lime wedges on the side. Makes 4 servings of 8 oysters, or 32 appetizers.

Oysters on the Half Shell with 
Passion Fruit Mignonette Sauce
Mignonette sauce is a condiment usually made with minced shallots, cracked pepper, and vinegar. It is traditionally served with raw oysters. This is the Hawaiian version. 

1 lemon, juice only
1 lime, juice only
1/2 cup olive oil
2 passion fruit, cut in half, pulp scraped out with seeds
3 tablespoons cracked black pepper
1/4 cup finely minced shallots
small handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped

36 oysters on the half shell
crushed ice for presentation
2 limes, cut into wedges, to serve

Place all the ingredients, except the oysters, lime wedges and ice, into a small bowl and mix well, cover and refrigerate. Carefully open the oysters using an oyster shucker by loosening the muscle from bottom shell, removing top shell. Arrange oysters on a large, deep serving plate filled with crushed ice. To serve, spoon a teaspoon of the passion fruit mignonette sauce over each oyster and garnish with lime wedges. Makes 6 servings of 6 oysters, or 36 appetizers.

Creamy Oyster-Rice Stew with Sake
East meets West in my delicious version of creamy oyster stew.

2 slices bacon, diced
1/2 cup butter
1 medium onions, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tablespoons flour
fresh ground black pepper
1 pinch cayenne
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 (8 ounce) bottles clam juice
1/4 cup sake
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 (12 ounce) cans evaporated milk
1 cup cooked long grain rice
16 ounces shucked oysters, with their liquor
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup nori flakes or strips (seaweed, found in the Asian section of your grocery store)
rice crackers

Sauté diced bacon in a non-stick soup pot over low heat until rendered. Add butter and heat until melted. Add onions, celery and garlic and continue to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent, taking care not to let them brown. Add salt and pepper to taste, pinch of cayenne, thyme and flour, whisking steadily to make a roux. Cook, whisking steadily, for several minutes. Slowly whisk in clam juice, whisking until smooth, then sake, whisking until smooth. Whisk in cream, whisking until smooth, then whisk in evaporated milk, whisking until smooth. Raise heat slightly, stir while bringing just until it starts to boil, then lower heat and whisk until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add cooked rice, stir in oysters with their liquor, and several dashes of Worcestershire sauce. Continue to heat, stirring occasionally, until oysters curl at the edges indicating they are heated through. Serve immediately, garnished with nori cut into thin strips and rice crackers on the side. Makes 8 servings.

Oysters Rockefeller
Oysters Rockefeller is a blend of ingredients that makes this dish symbolic of New Orleans cuisine.

24 large oysters
1 1/2 cups drained cooked spinach
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped green scallions
2 slices cooked crumbled bacon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
dash Tabasco
rock salt

Open oysters in microwave. Just open, don´t cook. Discard top shells. Cut meat free from bottom shell but leave in shell. Reserve. Preheat oven to 400°F. Add spinach, bread crumbs, scallions, bacon, parsley, olive oil and Tabasco to food processor. Process just enough to chop fine. Do NOT make a puree. Arrange oysters on a bed of rock salt on a ovenproof platter. Spoon spinach mixture onto each oyster. Bake 8 minutes until cooked then broil to brown. Serve very hot. Makes 2-4 servings.

Panko Fried Oysters
This is a 3-step, easy fried oyster recipe using crispy panko (Japanese bread crumbs), and a mildly spicy and sweet dipping sauce.

12 oysters, freshly shucked
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons Tabasco hot sauce
1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs found in the Asian section of your grocery store)
2 cups canola oil
Mae Ploy brand sweet chili sauce (found in the Asian section of your grocery store)

In a small bowl, place the flour. In a second small bowl, whisk the egg and 3 tablespoons of the hot sauce. In a third small bowl, place the panko. Dredge the oysters in the flour shaking off any excess. Dip the flour dredged oysters in the egg mixture. Then coat the oysters in the panko bread crumbs. In a heavy skillet, heat oil to 325˚F. Add the breaded oysters and fry until golden brown about 1-2 minutes. Drain on paper towels and immediately sprinkle with salt. Serve warm with sweet chili sauce. Makes 2-4 servings. Note: These crispy fried oysters work really well in a "Po' Boy" sandwich. Simple add 3 fried oysters to french bread rolls, topped with shredded lettuce and sliced tomatoes, mayonnaise (or May Ploy sweet chili sauce) and dill pickle slices.

Chef's Shooters
This shooter is like a bloody mary with a surprise at the bottom... bottoms up!

1 small freshly shucked raw oyster with its juice (liquor)*
1/2 to 1 ounce of V8 Vegetable Juice
1 ounce ice cold high-quality vodka, I like "Tito's" from Texas**
dash of Tabasco sauce
squeeze of fresh-squeezed lime juice

* If you can't find small oysters, cut oysters into smaller pieces that are easy to swallow.
** By chilling the vodka, it acquires a thick, silky texture.

Place oyster and its liquor (juice) in bottom of a chilled martini or shot glass (any small glass may be used). Pour in V8 Vegetable Juice, then Vodka; add Tabasco Sauce and lime juice. Drink as a shot, allowing oyster to slide down your throat, try not to chew. Makes 1 oyster shooter.

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