Saturday, January 21, 2006

Survivor Cowra ...or I just really wanted some seafood

Out here in the wild wild west, your survival skills and hunting acumen are honed. You realise you have to kill to eat and its a rough world but its all a matter of survival. Well its what I kept telling myself when I was faced with killing a bowl of hapless oysters.

I had never killed a living thing other than ants, small spiders ( I relate to Garfield) and the 2 pet terrapin I forgot to feed when I was about 6 years old. Until I came to Cowra that is. Sometime the year before (2003) when I looked at the Fishman's menu it said Live Mud Crabs.So I happily ordered a half kilo one. I was really surprised when the guy just handed it to me in a bag. It's claws had been tied up but it stared at me with its beady looking eyes, as if willing its claws to free itself and bite me. "Err aren't you supposed to kill it ?" I asked trying not to appear like the city bumpkin that I was. " No mate," he said cheerfully, "tastes much better if its killed just before cooking. Have a go love! Try it boiled and chilled with some seafood sauce." Well, actually I was dreaming more of Singapore chilli style or grilled with butter and freshly cracked pepper like how my dad does it. I carried my pet dinner home gingerly and presented it to my husband. He didn't fancy seafood even when it was filleted and deboned and shelled for him so I couldn't imagine he would be of much help.

I was surprised when he thought it was all very interesting (still had no idea of course) so I picked up the phone and talked to my mum and dad (should have paid more attention to how they did it in the past). They gave the advice to turn the crab on its back and drive a chopstick into the area at the apex of the "triangle" this is a weak spot as the triangle can be lifted up to reveal the gills of the crab. Then, quickly put into a pot of ready boiling water.Don't know if its true but they said that if you put it straight into boiling water, the crab panics and so the flesh is not as nice, also its more humane to kill it quickly first. Other tips were to put into the freezer so the crab becomes sleepy prior to stabbing it in the chest. A quick boil (10 mins) later, roughly break up the crab and my mum offered this recipe which was great! stir fry lots of ginger, garlic, chilli, soy and chinese wine and add the crab pieces with smashed shells so the flavour can absorb into the meat. It was a really tasty dinner and the previous thoughts of killing a hapless creature were soon forgotten.

We also visited the Cowra Smokehouse when it first opened. This deli features a fully functional smokehouse and trout farm so the trout are smoked fresh. It also smokes duck, chicken, salmon and offers sundried tomatoes and local marinated sheeps cheese. (Hmm so many details... I'll do a post on it sometime) Anyway, you can catch trout of your own from the tank for $6 each successful fish caught. It took me a while but I finally caught my own !

The owner Tim helped us to gut the fish and we went home to cook it. We took his suggestion and wrapped one in foil and grilled it with lemon and tomato in its belly. I fried the other and doused it with soy and mirin mmm both were yummy in their own way.

The main crux of today's story (yes I'm finally back to the oysters) is that yesterday, I walked past a pub where the blackboard read "3 dozen Batemans Bay Oysters $15" I had been having oyster cravings for a while now and I thought a few fresh oysters would hit the spot. I could ask them if they would sell me a dozen. I tried looking into the bottle shops refrigerators trying to see the tasty beauties. I asked the girl behind the counter about the oysters and felt the familiar sensation of ACK! when she lifted a damp towel up from an ice cream tub and showed me a bag of 36 closed, unshucked LIVE oysters. I squeeked "Oh I thought they would've been shucked" She explained that it was fresher that way out here and they could still be kept for another few days in the same cool damp conditions if I didn't plan on eating them all at once. I gulped and thought "How badly do I want these babies?" "OK I'll take them!" I also bought a bottle of McGuigans Traminer Riesling from them for good measure.

I got home and surveyed my prey. The label in the bag said they were Clyde River, Batemans Bay Sydney Rock Oysters. I swigged half a glass of Riesling and proceeded to try attacking one with a butter knife. I felt the oyster tighten and decided to give up. I could always try to grow an oyster farm in my bathtub ... Richard said," Where are you going to get the seawater from?" I took another swig and got him to try and call Casey and Clare. They would surely know how to open an oyster ! They could hunt and spear abalone and fish. If anyone could shuck an oyster, it would be them! All I got was an answering machine ... Richard looked it up on the internet and we found a handy video of a man opening Maryland oysters. Great! I knew we had to wash and scrub them first! We were getting somewhere ...

I went back to my pets dinner and proceeded to give them a bath and knock the excess hard stuff off them. I felt them tighten some more and I felt so bad I wanted to give up, but I convinced myself they were playing their part in the food chain. They still didn't look like the ocean type oysters but at least I could see where the hinge was now (in rock oysters they are in the pointy end) I also went to look for my trusty Victorinox camping knife where the main blade has a sharp end that rounds off to both sides. It looked more like the shucking knife the man was holding, rather than the harmless butter knife. It was a pretty amazing feeling to feel the hinge loosen as I pushed the pointy end in, and then I carefully slid it all the way aroundthe perimeter to prise the flat side open.

In the picture, I am not using the red checked teatowel. But this is only for dramatic license. It is dangerous to shuck without a towel as a safeguard in your hand while holding the oyster. Also, don't try this at home kids, but loosening it actually felt like loosening a tooth before extraction!! I was right at home after that and opened a dozen quickly. I ate them with a dash of tabasco sauce but for Richard, I popped them in a shotglass and topped it with mirin and some grated ginger. Ahh heavenly how it slides down ...the sweet mirin, the salty smooth oyster and the spicy ginger. We had it done this way at the local gourmet restaurant Neila and never forgot how it tasted. Today .... we could have some in our own home at less than a $1 per shot. I had always preferred pacific oysters but after tasting how really fresh rock oysters were, I think all oysters are yummy in their own way ... especially those you can open yourself. Oysters 3 dozen $15
Ikea star shaped ice cube tray $1.20
McGuigans Traminer Riesling $9.99
Learning how to shuck your own oysters- priceless


At 7:09 PM, Blogger KirkK said...

Oh Rachel - The heavenly oyster shucker. Personally I think they were afraid of a possible root canal, or somethin'. When the oyster are especially fresh - I'll eat mine with just a touch of lemon. To me, it's the immediate aftertaste of the oyster that is so pleasurable, or not.

At 7:55 PM, Blogger RON said...

was wondering....where do put all the oyster shells? They must make some use of the tons and tons of discarded shells.

At 12:19 AM, Blogger Dr. Mommy, D.D.S. said...

wow, what an awesome story! i love seafood, too, but can't stand to kill anything with a face. as soon as it enters my house as a living being, it becomes my pet. kudos to you, transplanted city girl!

thanks for visiting my blog, i'm glad you enjoyed it! once i start work, i'll have more interesting dental stuff to post. right now, i think the most excitement stems from the transition i'm experiencing here, and how different canadians actually are from americans.

so, a dentist from singapore...i had friends who've traveled there and they say it's beautiful. what made you move to australia? yeah, and those RCDS exams are tough - the year i took them they were even harder and longer than the year my husband took them (he's also a dentist) and i was stunned that i passed. whatever, you'll get it next time!

good luck and keep visiting, i'm saving your page on my favorites!

At 12:45 PM, Blogger milgwimper said...


Wow so brave! No, I am not being sarcastic. :) I have not shucked my own oysters yet, but now reading your blog I think I up to the task! This is a great post, made me smile, and today has been rough. Thank you! :)

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

Hi Kirk ...
So what determines whether the taste of the oyster is pleasurable or not??

Hmm ron, I think they just get thrown away I'm afraid ... I think they are all mineral, made by the oysters to protect themselves. Per haps if they were thrown back in the ocean the sea creatures might be able to use them?

Hi Dr. mommy!!! Thanks for visiting! I defitnely have your blog down as well to read about. I was in NY in July! I love the vibrance and multi-culturalism of that city that never sleeps. I also visited Vancouver so I appreciate what sort of change it must be for you as I noticed lots of difference between the two countries, despite their close proximity. I'll be following your life story as you share it with us :)

I actually came to Aust. 12 years ago as a senior high student. I then went on to study dentistry here in Oz so I'm not sure what dentistry is like over there. I do visit my parents once a year or so though. But moving here was a big change and even moving from the city to the country was a big change too.

Poor milly *hug* hope that the weekend is better. Write me about itif it helps... I know that a huge part of it was your farewell to Jo. Take care and hope you and DH are able to comofrt each other.

At 7:24 PM, Blogger milgwimper said...

Heyla Rachel,

Well it helps to have awesome friends like you, and Dh is a comfort. It comes and it goes, the pain. I know it is best for them to go, but I just miss them. I will get over it, and move on, and the friendship will endure...Blah bLah blah.. :) HUGZ Thanks a lot my dear!


A while back I had read that some places where experimenting using oyster shells for filtering water or something a long those lines. I will have to do some research. :)

At 11:32 PM, Blogger Flatfeet said...

Hey Rach,
thanks for checking out my blog. It's not too bad being a pod which at least, much much better than a proctologist I must say.Hee!
In fact, I've just moved from Perth to Sydney and this would be my 6th year in Oz.

Yeap,I'm from SG too and I'm soo looking forward to go back home in June.Missing my fam, friends and the local food. Nothing beats the local prata with egg in it. My social life is seriously depleting here. I am comtemplating of going back SG for good actually.We shall see.

So what's up in the country? i've yet to do the sightseeing much in Syd except the blue mountains.

Will link your blog up soon ;)
Nitey nite

At 11:09 AM, Blogger Clare Eats said...

I am sorry the phones were off we were test driving cars! Oh MY!

You did good, but you just need to get an oyster knife, they are about $3?? and they are pointy but not sharp.

It looks like you did a MARVELOUS!!! job all by your self!

Wish we were there :)

Next time you have to come to Tathra and taste some REALLY good ones ;o

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

Nice to see you flatfeet!

I know what you mean about missing the food and friends. Parents a bit naggy so I only miss them around Chinese New Year hehe.

It is a bit hard to find good friends in a big city like Sydney. How are your collaegues? There are lots of good things to do and eat around Sydney but I miss the shops being open after you finish work/ school.

Anyway hope we can keep in touch thru blogging :)

Hi Clare!! What sort of cars did you test drive?? You need to tell us all! Can't wait to see you in less than 2 weeks!! Hmm what to eat? :P

At 9:38 PM, Blogger Flatfeet said...

Yo Rach,
Good to hear from you. I'll be leaving 3 weeks for Singapore in June. My fellow colleagues are all married and all have their own lives to lead. To come to think about it, I am da only person who is unattached. I moved to Syd is because of work opportunity.
As I've mentioned earlier, I need to spice up my social life. Like in Perth, there is always friends to go yum cha, dancing, supper. Over here, usually I'll hang out with 2 girls (from SG) who are doing their Masters in Psychology in Macq Uni.So yum cha or Yu sheng is almost a mission impossible here.
Chinese New year- work as usual. Maybe I should come and visit you for ang pow collection (kidding*).

Now I gotta check out where Cowra is. Sounds a bit far and deserted......

ok time for pong pong again. Gosh, it's such a warm night.

At 10:32 PM, Blogger Sue Crane said...

sounds delicious! I have never tried to shuck my own oyster nor kill a crab. Big kudos to you!

They say champagne is the best match for oysters. thinking about it makes me want some! Yum.

At 11:39 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

LOL Flatfeet, well if you do visit it is only tradition that I have to give you ang pow anyway :)

I hope that you do find some friends to do stuff with. We know what its like coz most ppl here are married with kids, we are the only DINKs in Cowra I think. It would have been easier if you did Uni in Sydney. Well maybe we can meet for yum cha sometime ! Yeah weather v. hot. Hope your living not too far west as it gets hotter closer to Penrith and Richmond.

Hi Sue :) Will try your oyster and champagne idea sometime. Tonight - with the last of the oysters I made oyster omelette! And it tasted pretty authentic so I was happy. Did you get that in M'sia, its a unhealthy favourite in S'pore due to the amount of lard used but on a non-stick pan it worked well with only a few drops of oil :)

At 11:46 PM, Blogger Clare Eats said...

We test drove all the mid size hatches ;)

At 8:47 AM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hi Rachel - I think it's a bit different for everyone; but I enjoy the cucumbery/slightly metallic after taste of pacific oysters. I also really enjoy the mildly briny, meaty flavored Skookums, has an rare steak-like after taste. Hama-hama's and Fanny Bays are also fairly tasty. Next time I'm in Seattle I'll make sure to document....

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Sue Crane said...


Oh Chien! Yummmmmyyyy. Never really tried to make that either usually because I am too busy eating the raw ones down as fast as I can. Funny I never really used to like oysters, now I love em.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said...

Great job! Esp since you were using a knife with a blade. Eek!

They do taste great though, don't they? Mmm... my mind is starting to wander...

At 6:54 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

Clare ! Will you have a new car when we see you next? Did you decide on one? I once dressed up nicely with my ex boyf so we could test jaguars and saabs out haha that was when I was a poor student :P We chickened out of test driving but we were shown around nicely.

Kirk, I would greatly look forward to that! I have no idea about half the species your talking about. Would love to see before and after photos too (of the oysters)

Thanks for dropping by Helen ! You know what they say about ignorance is bliss?? Lol I guess I was confident about my "surgical skills" ;)
hehe Sue we should have a s'pore m'sian cookfest sometime. I'll buy bottled oysters and make the oh jian :P


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