For oyster lovers everywhere, Labor Day means the arrival of fall and an abundance of these salty mollusk delicacies on the half-shell, steamed or roasted, tucked into luscious sauces and baked, in delicately seasoned stews or fried in cloud-light batters and served on salads and in sandwiches. For non-oyster lovers, there is curiosity about this treasure of the ocean. Yet history tells us that humans have been harvesting and eating oysters since our earliest days. They are rich in zinc, selenium, iron, Vitamin A and D, which contribute to their reputation as an aphrodisiac.
For today’s oyster aficionados, it’s important to know where oysters come from, and no one knows that better than Kim Murray, managing partner of The Lobster Trap in Asheville, NC. “Just like in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Oysters feed by filtering phytoplankton-rich water through their gills. These single-cell plants flourish in salty or brackish waters where rivers and oceans meet,” Murray said. “The rivers bring a steady flow of sediment-filled water that is rich in the nutrients the phytoplankton need to grow.”
Couple those nutrients with light and warmth, and you have the perfect environment for oysters, Murray noted. “There’s just one problem. If the river sediment contains pollutants or the ocean water is contaminated, there can be problems for the oysters and anyone who eats them. That is why it is critically important for restaurants to know where their oysters come from and for consumers to ask.”
The man responsible for answering these questions at The Lobster Trap is Executive Chef and Partner Mike McCarty. “In any business, you build your success on strong relationships. And because The Lobster Trap has been bringing fresh seafood to Asheville for a decade, we’ve gotten to know local seafood purveyors across the U.S. These people know what’s going on in the oceans, bays and inlets where they harvest seafood, live and work, sometimes for generations.”
This fall The Lobster Trap is featuring oysters from the Gulf Coast, Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Ware River, Virginia; Sweet Jesus, Maryland; and Rappahannock, Virginia. “Each location produces oysters with different qualities,” McCarty said. “Rappahannock oysters, which come from the Chesapeake Bay region, are less salty than other East Coast oysters. Gulf Coast oysters, on the other hand, don’t change in flavor during the year like northern oysters do. They are fatter in the winter and thinner in the summer but always mild.”
Fans of Lewis Carroll’s poem The Walrus and The Carpenter will recall that the two oyster-lovers ate them, every one, with bread, vinegar and salt. McCarty’s pairing are far more flavorful and include a raw oyster appetizer with lime caviar, pear mignonette and micro greens, as well as a distinctive twist on Oysters Rockefeller using Pernod, Swiss chard and hollandaise sauce. For the purists, The Lobster Trap’s oyster bar includes an array of freshly made sauces. And for all their customers, The Lobster Trap offers a robust selection of local beers and wines that bring out the best in seafood.
“For us, good food isn’t only about farm-to-table. We do that, but we also do what we call catch-to-table. We like to think of it as bringing the ocean to the mountains of western N.C. We’ve done if for ten years, and it’s why we love coming to work every day,” Murray said.
The Lobster Trap first opened its doors in downtown Asheville in 2005. Since then, it has earned the reputation of being one of the city’s premier restaurants and one of the top seafood restaurants in the Southeast.
The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.’