What are the essential books for ostreaphiles, oyster lovers, and cooks who love bivalves? I start here with a handful, which would you add? Special thanks to Jacobsen who’s graciously allowed us to share materials from his site in our class.
Books for Reading
The Big Oyster – Mark Kurlansky
Tracing the history of the oyster in America, specifically New York, Kurlansky introduces us to the characters whose lives were intertwined with the humble oyster. He takes us through rough neighborhoods like Five Points, and explains the relationships of oysters to industry, to captains of industry, to the settlement of Manhattan – all peppered with historic recipes, anecdotes and terrific quotes.
A Geography of Oysters– Rowan Jacobsen
Really an ostreaphile’s bible, Jacobsen’s Geography is essential reading for anyone who wishes to know more than the fact that they love oysters. It illustrates concepts like terroir or merroir, gives apt descriptions for the various taste profiles and profiles selected oyster growers among the various oysters of note from coast to coast.
Recipes, sellers, oyster bars and more included. Be sure to see his companion website for fun additional materials.
Shucked – Erin Byers Murray
A homegrown story that just happens to touch on a few things we really love: the life of a writer, life-changing mid-course corrections, and an intimate feel for the life of a locally beloved oyster producer through the eyes of a city-girl-turned-oyster-farmer. Reading her journey you can feel the sun on your back (as well as the ache in it) and the cool water around you.
A terrific guide to oyster varieties, maybe the best book for a new oyster fan. Great photos and easy reading style invite you to shuck your own. Known for his shucking prowess, McMurray is more than a world champion shucker, he’s also a “publican” pub owner, and author.
Books for Cooking
Cookbooks belong here, too. While I prefer my oysters on the half shell, usually with some saké, I’ve got to admit a few broiled or grilled recipes have caught my eye. For anyone a fan of, or curious about, sustainable seafood cooked at home, I highly recommend the following:
Becky Selengut’s Good Fish. With some simple and some more cheffie-style recipes, Becky offers us notes on sustainability and ingredients, as well as wine pairing suggestions. From stunning mignonette to classic Hangtown Fry and some intriguing succotash, she’s got oysters covered, too. How about Oyster, Apple, Chorizo stuffing? Yes please!
Barton Seaver’s For Cod & Country. “Oysters are what is known as a keystone species, a species that holds together the whole intricate framework of the environment.” Without them, Seaver notes, the waters get murky and the whole ecosystem falls apart. In fact, Barton says “eating farmed oysters is our patriotic duty.” Try his oysters with peaches and paprika.
Jill Lambert’s Good Catch. Great clutch of oyster recipes including oyster leek chowder, and a po’boy sandwich too. Yeah, it’s Canadian, go figure.
Julie Qiu of In a Halfshell fame, has compiled her own recommended oyster reading list here.