One of the best things we did in our year in New Zealand was to take a trip to Mahurangi Oysters Limited and sample freshly harvested oysters right at the farm itself. An exceptional experience that would raise your bivalve expectations forever! After this experience, you’d expect nothing less than the freshest, plumpest, juiciest oysters in the most authentic, natural setting . (No. I wasn’t paid to say this.)
The pristine clear turquoise waters of the Mahurangi River in Hauraki Gulf was the setting of our food adventure. Several weeks before, Lisa had arranged for us to meet at Scott’s Landing one afternoon in October. All four of us did not know what to expect as none of us had ever been on any oyster tour before. Upon our arrival (after some confusion as there wasn’t any GPS signal in the area), Andrew and Lisa Hay welcomed us aboard their Shuckleferry.
We left immediately as the tide was expected to recede earlier than usual. While we cruised along the gorgeous Mahurangi River, Lisa explained how they got started more than 20 years ago and go about farming oysters in a sustainable way. Using a broadcast spawning method, millions of wild caught spats (juvenile oysters) are ejected into the water in summer (January to March) and they naturally attach themselves onto these thin wooden planks. These wooden planks are then rearranged onto inter-tidal racks where the tides wash over them twice each day.
When we reached their farm, Andrew donned his thick rubber waders, jumped into the waters, searched for suitable oysters and came back with a large basket full of alien-looking things. At this point, everyone on board was more fascinated with Andrew’s gallant navy expedition and his impressive waders than the strange looking molluscs. Very soon that was about to change.
Just then, the tide started receding and the rows of inter-tidal racks were exposed. We could see how what a young and mature looked like. Now in normal layman’s attire, Andrew showed us how to shuck oysters. So everyone had their own oyster stations complete with a wooden board, oyster knives and tea towels . After several failed attempts, most of us got the hang of shucking oysters. The best part- we could eat as many oysters as our stomachs could take! Andrew made it look very easy but it takes quite a bit of practice to know where exactly to insert your knife and not have bits of shell everywhere.
But once you start shucking, you can’t stop. LOL.
I found it really fun to shuck oysters as you don’t really know how your oyster looks like or tastes and then when you manage to successfully shuck it without breaking the shell BAM! -the most amazing, beautiful, plump oyster is right in front of you. Dislodge the meat with your oyster knife and pop the whole oyster in your mouth. Divine! You can taste the clean, briny sea all in one bite and it is sensational. I’m never buying opened oysters again because the taste of freshly shucked oysters is unparalleled. Once the oysters have been opened, they cannot be kept for too long as they immediately expel the seawater that keeps them alive when out of the water. Unopened oysters can be kept in the fridge for a week with their cup sides down a damp tea towel over them as they do not like to be dry and cold.
We first tasted Mahurangi Oysters at Al Brown’s Depot restaurant and they were fantastic. He serves them slightly chilled with a lemon and a shallot vinaigrette. But the experience of eating oysters right at its source is indescribable. The fresh sea salt smell that wafts past your nose every time there’s a breeze enhances the sensory experience of shucking and eating dozens of oysters. And so it is quite a different experience from eating them in a restaurant. Oysters are the taste and smell of the sea encapsulated in a mollusc.
If you’re in Auckland, do give Mahurangi Oysters Limited’s Oyster Farm Tour a go. For more information, this video gives you more details of Andrew and Lisa Hay’s farm.
How to prepare and shuck oysters
- Scrub and clean your oysters under running water.
- To shuck them, hold your oyster with a tea towel with the cup side down, flat top facing up and with the hinge pointing towards you at an angle.
- Look for where the two shells meet.
- Insert your oyster knife in between the two shell edges, at the 2 o’clock position. (as pictured above) That’s where the muscle is.
- Move your knife back and forth until it slides between the two edges of the shell.
- Push down and life up. The flat top shell should pop up.
- Slide your knife underneath the oyster to dislodge it completely.
- Congratulations! You’re no longer a shucking virgin! Enjoy your freshly shucked oyster.
Look at the creamy meat inside that oyster! One of the few oysters I managed to shuck quite cleanly. I was in awe at the intricate patterns inside an oyster so I had to take a photo of it.
Oysters vary in taste according to the seasons. In winter/spring , they are creamy and plump as they’re getting ready for spawning in the summer and in autumn, they are less plump but still meaty. Mahurangi Oysters Limited do not sell any oysters in summer as they are less appealing and they let their oysters recover.
We bought a bag of oysters after our tour. As we’d already had many raw oysters during the tour, I decided to have grill the ones we took back.
Inspired by the briny taste of the Mahurangi fresh oysters, I added fish sauce to inject more of the ‘sea taste’ into them. To brighten the salty taste, I added some chilli for some kick and coriander leaves as an earthy,herby contrast at the end. A very simple dish with guaranteed deliciousness. Throw them onto the BBQ or into your oven. Have some crusty bread alongside to dip into the buttery salty juices. Heaven in a shell. Oh wait! Don’t forget the beer! Cheers!
Oven grilled Oysters with Thai Compound Butter
Enough for about 12 oysters, depending on their size
- 200g butter, softened
- 1-2 large garlic cloves, finely grated
- 1- 1 1/2 tsp fish sauce
- 2-4 tsp sriracha/ crushed chilli sauce
- coriander leaves for garnish
- extra sriracha/crushed chilli sauce for serving
- In a bowl, mix softened butter with grated garlic, fish sauce and chilli sauce.
- Chill compound butter in the refrigerator chill just before grilling. This can be done in advance.
- On the day you intend to grill the oysters, clean and shuck them. Discard top shell. Lay out each oyster with bottom shell on a roasting rack or on top of rock salt to keep them upright and steady.
- Remove compound butter from fridge and soften slightly until they can be scooped quite easily with a spoon.
- Spoon over compound butter on top of oysters such that it completely covers the oyster.
- Grill the oysters on the top of the oven until the butter has melted and it starts to bubble.
- Remove immediately from the oven and serve. Best eaten as soon as they’ve cooled enough to be popped into your mouth. Serve with crusty bread for dipping.
- Bite, chew and savour the oyster juices and the luscious thai compound butter. So good you won’t stop at one!