I must be the only person in the entire Chesapeake Bay area who doesn't know how to serve an oyster on the half shell. Butter? Lemon? Old Bay? I'm embarrassed to say I have no idea. But it's time I learn. My husband loves them, and I'm planning to buy a dozen for Valentine's Day.
In this, at least, I am not alone. Oyster sales spike on Valentine's Day alongside chocolate and bubbly. Seafood shops are stocking up, and restaurants are adding the epicurean indulgence to their Saturday night lover's menus.
Kevin McClaren who runs Marinetics, Inc., home of the famous Choptank Sweets oysters, has been hustling since last week to fill all the orders that have come in. He likens the work to a well-coordinated dance. "It's like a ballet," he says, "Taking them out, washing them off, getting them on ice, packing them up. Over and over. All day." A manly ballet, he adds.
Kevin says his business more than doubled this week. Whole Foods alone ordered 6,000. Most of his sales are to local and regional restaurants that will be serving them up roasted, fried, dusted with chocolate, and of course, raw on the half shell.
Long considered an aphrodisiac, the humble oyster was said to have given the 18th Century Venetian playboy, Giacomo Casanova, his swagger. In 2005, Italian researchers claimed they had the proof to turn the myth into a reality. Their work showed that Mediterranean mussels contained two amino acids associated with amorous behavior in animals. In the end, however, mussels are not oysters, and their study subjects were not human. More recently, it's been said that a high concentration of zinc in oysters could induce a romantic response, but one would have to gobble them down in gluttonous quantities more likely to induce vomiting than romance.
Myth or not, oysters remain high on the list of essentials for gastronomic courtship. Behind the seafood counter at Whole Foods in Annapolis, Lamont Jackson expects to shuck nearly 600 of the stony Bay jewels on Saturday. Normally oyster sales hover at around 50 per day. I asked him why he thought so many people bought oysters on Valentine's Day, and his answer was probably the best I'd heard so far: "I think they add something fun to the table."
That's what I'm hoping for when I serve them up tomorrow tonight. After all, it has been scientifically proven that fun is the best recipe for a long, happy marriage.
—Kimbra Cutlip, CBF's Senior Multimedia Writer