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Join RENO Magazine for Oysters on the Terrace Wochit

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Henry Ward Beecher, the 19th century abolitionist, pondered the oyster. It was “the mouthful before all other mouthfuls,” he said, while also acknowledging “the exterior is not persuasive.”

Indeed it is not. But beneath the craggy mien of the oyster lies a plunge to the briny deep, one enjoyed by humans since ancient times.

Of course, to get at its sweet, salty, savory, flinty flesh, someone must shuck the oyster, a process involving heavy gloves, a thick squat knife, and sharp shells that can do some serious slicing of their own. Given the rigmarole, do you blame folks for not giving a shuck?

Well, on June 5, they won’t have to. That’s when RENO Magazine is hosting an oyster tasting on the terrace at Rapscallion Seafood House & Bar, a longtime mainstay of the Wells Avenue district.

The folks at Rapscallion are doing the shucking, then presenting the oysters in four or five stations.

Oyster availability changes weekly, but it’s likely Bluepoints (from Long Island Sound), Fanny Bays (from British Columbia), and kumamotos (cultivated along the West Coast) will make an appearance, along with one or two varieties that will come to market in early June.

Folks can anoint their oysters with classics cocktail sauce, mignonette and spurts of lemon juice, plus some surprise condiments from the Rapscallion kitchen. Nothing goes with oysters like sparkling wine, so flutes of icy Naveran Cava and La Marca prosecco donated by Breakthru Beverage also will be served.

According to Rapscallion general manager Patrick Dalton, the timing is right for our bivalve bash.

“There has definitely been a resurgence in the oyster. When I got here in 2004, it was really tough to get people to buy oysters. Now, everybody is eating them.”

Life cycle

But not every oyster is eaten. Edible oysters mainly belong to one family. Other types of oysters are harvested for pearls or for their shells.

Oysters are filter feeders, drawing in plankton, particles and excess sediment for food. This filter feeding helps clean their marine environments. Oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of sea water a day.

Oysters initially reproduce as males (by releasing sperm), then as they grow larger, as females (by releasing eggs). An oyster’s life begins as a tiny spat, or seed, the size of a grain of sand — 5,000 could fit in your hand.

There are several methods of cultivating oysters. At famed Hog Island Oyster Co. on Tomales Bay in rural Marin County, spats are placed by the millions in mesh cylinders in the bay. The cylinders roll with the tides, allowing the water to tumble around the baby oysters.

When they’re about three-quarters of an inch in size, the oysters are transferred to mesh bags that are elevated above the bay floor. The bags are tumbled and knocked regularly so the oysters develop the harder shells that help preserve them longer.

On the other hand, at its original farm, Fanny Bay uses a raft and tray system to rear its oysters. Spats are placed in trays that are suspended using flotation devices in the chilly waters off Vancouver Island. When the weather warms, the trays can be lowered into deeper water to protect the oysters from the sun.

Like humans, different oysters have different life cycles. In general, oysters can grow to full size in nine months, but farmers grow them for a year or more to develop better flavor and texture.

On June 5, we’re celebrating those qualities as we slurp the early evening away.

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