Some weeks life is a Captain's Platter

Nelson Clyde talks with Rick Eltife about oysters at The Black Pearl, Elite's downtown oyster bar.


Last week was my first opportunity to spend time in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It is a beautiful town with much history and tradition. One particular establishment had bricks from an original water well in the town from more than 400 years ago.

The locals were educating visitors that the tourist season had ended and thus demand for lobster was in low season. The 22,000-population town expands to closer to 120,000 with summer visitors.

It dawned on me to pay closer attention to when Red Lobster puts on Lobster Fest every year. My money says it's when our friends in New England find it as plentiful as baloney in low season.

Lobster has always been a little lost on me, to be honest. The rich flavor is good enough in measured quantities, but for the cost, it simply does not pack the same punch as a good New York strip. In fact, they serve the old sea roach on rolls back east in a version somewhat akin to chicken salad.

My feelings on chicken salad have been long documented in this column. If I had to choose between the two for the remainder of my time on this earth it would probably have to go to chicken salad.

The other thing they have up there that really stands out is lump crabmeat. Now that's something special. Just ask Louie or Oscar.

Speaking of seafood, a recent conversation with Rick Eltife about oysters gave me a new insight into an old rule. You've probably heard the admonition to avoid oysters in months without an "r" in the name in order to bypass health hazards.

Rick explained patrons don't have to worry about such issues any more due to superior refrigeration options for those engaged in the harvest. They are living organisms so keeping them at the right temperature ensures their live dive down our throats.

In late 19th century, some areas prohibited harvesting oysters when the water warmed up because the critters were spawning.

He also gave me a personal tour of a plate of oysters, including an admonition when I asked for red sauce and saltine crackers to down my little slippery friends. He explained his joint is an East Coast style oyster bar with Mignonette sauce made with vinegar and scallions. A little dose of the sauce together with the oyster liquor in the shell is intended to wash everything down with a fine mix of flavors.

One other thing we discussed was whether the old urban legend was true that the reason you squeeze lemon on the oysters is to stun them before you send them down the hatch.

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