Oysters: The Lowcountry’s Super Seafood

Oysters have long been a staple of Hilton Head’s rich culture, back to the days when Native Americans thrived off of the Lowcountry’s bounty. An equally delectable fact, according to Andrew Carmines, owner of Shell Ring Oyster Company and general manager of Hudson’s Seafood On the Docks, these briny bivalves also provide benefits to our ecosystem at every growth stage. 

“Larval oysters that do not find hard substrate provide food for small fish species,” Carmines said. “Oysters also filter 20 to 40 gallons of water per day, thus keeping our water clean, as well as keeping our abnormally high phytoplankton population in balance. Oysters provide protection from erosion in inland waterways, while creating habitat for stone crabs, blue crabs, and thousands of fish species. And, oysters that have expired, continue to provide habitat for larval oysters and protection from erosion.” 

In short, Carmines said, “Oysters are a perfect example of a keystone species.”

Oysters are also a cornerstone food and include a long list of health benefits. For starters, oysters are low in fat, high in protein, and contain selenium, zinc, iron, magnesium and B vitamins. Research suggests oysters boost metabolic activity, increase tissue repair and growth, lower your cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, improve your immune functions, aid in wound healing, and promote healthy growth — just to name a few perks.

As we roll in to the season filled months that include the letter R — the harvest season, a golden rule we follow to respect the summer spawning months — there are so many ways Hilton Head locals and visitors alike can savor the flavor of oysters. Carmines’ favorite recipe? “Shuck. Eat. Repeat.” He also suggested a simple, must-try char-grilled oyster recipe, but one of the best ways to eat oysters is at an oyster roast. There’s nothing better than a cool night and a warm, steamed oyster on a saltine cracker with cocktail sauce and extra horseradish. And whether you slurp, shoot, steam, grill, bake or fry (in a healthy oil like avocado oil, of course) your oysters, you can relish in the fact that you’re not only eating something delicious, but something nutritious, too. Cheers (or clinking shells) to that.

Carmines’ Char-Grilled Oysters

12 oysters, shucked
1 clove garlic, finely minced
4 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup grated pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat gas or charcoal grill to high heat. Steep garlic in butter over medium-low temp. Brown butter slightly for a nuttier flavor. Shuck oysters, removing the abductor muscle so the oyster is free from the shell. Place oysters on grill, add a teaspoon of the hot butter and garlic mixture to the top of oysters. When butter starts to bubble, top with cheese. Close grill lid. Wait for cheese to melt and brown, being careful not to overcook the oyster. 

Oyster Lingo

 (courtesy of Shell Ring Oyster Company)

Bivalve: Any of more than 15,000 species of clams, oysters, mussels, scallops and other members of the phylum mollusca characterized by a shell that is divided from front to back into left and right valves.

Briny: This relates to the saltiness of the oyster and is a flavor-filled reflection of the oyster’s origins.

Bushel: The word bushel is derived from buschel, which was a box in the 14th century. Oystermen refer to a bushel as a unit of weight, usually anywhere between 45 pounds and 60 pounds.

Flavor profile: Oyster connoisseurs use specific flavor descriptors to identify how we taste a particular oyster. These terms include words like salinity, complexity and finish, and acknowledging nuances like hints of melon, cucumber, seaweed, mineral, iron, copper, sweetness and umami.

Liquor: The juice of an oyster and a contributing component to its overall flavor.

Seed: The larval stage of an oyster.

Shuck: To remove the meat of an oyster from its shell.

Becca Edwards is a wellness professional, freelance writer, and owner of b.e.WELL+b.e.CREATIVE (bewellbecreative.com).