As we roll gently into the last month of 2016 ending in R, the Canadian oyster connoisseur is confronted with good news and bad.
On the positive side, Galway flats from Ireland are available at a quality oyster bar near you. Those are native European oysters—Ostrea edulis—unique in their firmness and mildly metallic finish. They are considered by many to be the best in the world.
“The flats were a bit late this year because their shell structure is a bit thin, but as soon as the waters get cold they’ll turn out great,” reported Toronto publican (The Ceili Cottage) Patrick McMurray back in early October, when he was fresh back from checking on his supplier in Ireland.
McMurray helped legalize the importation of flats a decade ago, when he wanted them for his now-defunct oyster bar Starfish and pestered the Canadian Food Inspection Agency into submission. Having learned the process, and now that McMurray consults for international seafood distributor Seacore, he has been busily pushing for more. And he has also earned import certification for a dozen different French oysters.
“Now I could bring in Scottish oysters, like Islay oysters from Loch Fyne, and serve them at my tavern with Islay whiskey, to drizzle in the shell, and slurp back out mingled with the oyster liquor and seawater,” McMurray related excitedly. He also has his eye on Barra oysters from the Outer Hebrides. Supplier by supplier, he wants to turn this country into an oyster lovers’ paradise.
“You’d think a good chef would blow his brains out to get their hands on this stuff, right?”
If so, we would become a beacon of foreign oyster tolerance, lording it over the narrow-minded Americans next door, who do not allow any import of European oysters. Which brings us to the bad news. This scenario is not to be. Nobody wants to buy these oysters at the price, something like $3 wholesale per piece. “You can’t sell at $5 each to people who are just going to dump sauce on them anyway,” McMurray conceded.
At least we’ve got Galway flats.