Categories
Eat Explore

“Bald” Peanuts + Oysters in Apalachicola

“Ma’am, what’s your preferred rice?” the woman on the other end of the phone call asked? Confused by the question, my food-centric mind drifted to forbidden black rice or jasmine rice, my two favorites. I asked her to repeat the question. After all, my call was to schedule COVID-19 tests for David and myself. Why would rice matter? Third attempt to clarify the question, she asks, “Are you Caucasian or black?” OK, she’s asking about our race, not rice.

Boiled peanuts are sold by the bag.

I may be a native southerner, but deep south cotton mouth is thicker than my ears are used to. “Bald peanuts” are boiled peanuts, and you pick up “ersters” and “shrump” from local seafood shacks. That’s life here in the Florida’s Panhandle known as “the Forgotten Coast,” where we are “rat now’ (a.k.a. right now). Apalachicola, Eastpoint and St. George’s Island are hours from resort development and crowded beaches further west on the Emerald Coast, and locals want it to stay that way. “Don’t tell people about us,” they write in a private Facebook group.

Well, sorry folks, but we like to share stories about interesting places and support local businesses. We happen to have a mutual passion for oysters. Here in Oyster City (a.k.a. Apalachicola) we enjoy a daily dozen slurp washed down with a cold Oyster City Brewing Company “Mangrove” IPA in the afternoons. (and recently Paumanok Chenin Blanc)!

Jeff Tilley teaches us  to shuck oysters
Jeff Tilley teaches us to shuck oysters

This week on The Connected Table LIVE we visited with Jeff Tilley, co-owner with his son, Reid Tilley, of Oyster Boss in Sopchoppy, Florida. Oyster Boss sells to restaurants, and the Sopchoppy retail outlet caters to drop ins and now has a growing ecommerce business launched during the pandemic. www.oysterboss.com

Apalachicola oysters have long been prized by bivalve fans, from chefs to consumers, but Tilley shared with us the challenges facing the industry as a result in changes in the water quality, resource mismanagement and the global sea level rise, among other reasons. Most are the result of human intervention. Pollution, runoff and waste disposal are all taking a toll on Florida’s coastal water system. Climate change is also a factor. The area has been impacted by drought and by Hurricane Michael, a category five that slammed the Panhandle in 2018. Much of the eye hit further west around Mexico Beach and Panama City, but we still saw some storm damage in Port St. Joe.

oysters on the half sheel
Did you know oysters are loaded with zinc, copper and vitamin B12- so good for the immune system!

Last year The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to shut down oyster harvesting in Apalachicola Bay through 2025, severely impacting an industry crucial to this region’s economy.  Apalachicola Bay historically produced 90% of Florida’s oysters and 10% of the nation’s supply.  Many restaurants rely on farmed oysters from Florida and Texas, although you can still find wild-caught from other regions of Florida.

Oyster Boss sources its farmed oysters from Alligator Point in Franklin County, where the water has a higher salinity resulting in a buttery, mild, salty oyster. Further south in northwest central Florida near Yankeetown (Levy County) Oyster Boss sources wild -caught oysters, that are plump, succulent and briney. Tilley brought us bags of both to sample, gave us a lesson on shucking and provided us with some education on the reproductive system of oysters.

One perfect pearl of an oyster.

Tilley is also a red mullet fan. These fish like to jump in the water, although we still have not tasted. He started the Facebook group, Wet Net Mullet Group, now with 12,000 members. “There is a lot of seafood power in this group,” he shared.

Shucking prowess is akin to having good knife skills. And the right knife. Tilley uses a knife called “Toadfish” which Oyster Boss sells. You need a sturdy grip and a glove. Find the “lip” of the oyster, insert the blade and start moving it back and forth until the shell starts to open slightly. Then, insert deeper. It can take some arm muscle and definitely nimble wrist action.

David shucks oysters
David shucks oysters

If you love pristine places to visit, care about sustainable aquaculture and are oyster lovers like we are, you’ll enjoy our conversation with Jeff Tilley. Listen here:

and share this link with friends: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/209-the-connected-table-live-27073513/episode/fla-gulf-coast-oyster-boss-jeff-77121731/

Categories
Eat

The Seafood Professor Is In…Meet Barton Seaver

“Seafood Professor.” That’s what we’ve decided to call Barton Seaver after receiving an advance copy of his new book, American Seafood, which covers ever species of fish on earth. It’s encyclopedic and a fascinating read.

 

And Barton’s a fascinating person. After serving as executive chef for a group of restaurants in Washington, DC, he now leads the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and is Senior Advisor for Sustainable Seafood Innovations at the University of New England.

He’s been a National Geographic Explorer and was apponted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to served on the U.S. Culinary Ambassador Corp. He grew up in the Chesapeake and now lives in Maine. We discussed sustainability and why regional identity is important starting with his backyard (back sea?) lobsters from Maine.

Listen to our show with Barton Seaver here:

Categories
Eat THE CONNECTED TABLE RADIO SHOW

The Connected Table LIVE! Visits with Rick Moonen March 11

Chef, restaurateur  and cookbook author, Rick Moonen, has been the country’s leading advocate for the sustainable seafood movement for the past 25 years, bringing national awareness to this subject near and dear to his heart. In 2013 USA Today named him one of Earth’s “Power Players” as one of five leaders helping the health of our planet.

Chef Rick Moonen
Chef Rick Moonen

He’s been featured on CNN, TODAY, Good Morning America, CBS Early Show, Dan Rather Reports, and many more.  His flagship restaurant, Rick Moonen’s rm seafood at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, showcase his commitment to sustainability without foregoing culinary creativity and innovation, and have been critically acclaimed by local and national press alike.

In June 2013, Chef Moonen transformed rm upstairs into Rx Boiler Room, a modern gastropub that showcases comfort food, redefined with Moonen’s signature twist. Rx Boiler Room was named Best New Restaurant of 2013 by Desert Companion magazine.