We’ve been urged to buy local, and in a food producing nation like ours it would be even better if that message was strongly, ‘Buy Local, Eat Local’. Plenty of great ingredients grow and food products are manufactured in the Mahurangi region, so we can feast on fresh, tasty and healthy fare that will get the local tick.
I love it that we have local oysters that can be bought direct from the farm, and personally I can never get enough of these delicacies, freshly shucked and eaten straight from the shell, with not much more than a squeeze of local lemon or lime.
At this time of the year, when winter is almost behind us, some of the sweetest oysters of the year are being harvested. While we’re used to savoury Bluffies, with a season that runs from March to August, we need to recognise our own local Pacific oysters growing quietly in the Mahurangi and Kaipara harbours.
The subtlety of taste of each oyster varies according to where the oysters are from. I spoke to Andrew and Lisa Hay, of Mahurangi Oysters, who sell most of their harvest to restaurants around New Zealand, about the secret lives of these shellfish. Oysters are filter feeders, with each oyster processing 18 litres of seawater per hour as they feast on algae. This helps to clean the environment, and Ministry of Primary Industry guidelines dictate that if there’s more than 25mls of rain over a 24-hour period, oyster farms must close for three days to ensure no runoff from the land contaminates the oysters.
In the hottest summer months, after the oysters have spawned (each oyster can create up to 10 million eggs) they are thin and wan, but soon begin to build up the creamy fat that is much prized by oyster lovers. Oysters are affected by the moon, too. They are crisp when the moon has waned, but become progressively more creamy as we build towards a full moon when tides are highest.
If you’re keen to seek out local oysters right now, when they are truly at their best, you can order online from Mahurangi Oysters, head to the Oyster Shed on Leigh Road, or purchase at Orata Marine Oysters at the Matakana Farmers Market, in the shell, half shell or little pottles. One pottle, or 18 freshly shucked oysters, are perfect for this delicious recipe.
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp butter
2 large fresh eggs
3 tbsp self-raising flour
18 shucked oysters, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 lime, finely grated zest only
Place the onion in a bowl with one tablespoon of the butter and cook for two minutes in a microwave until soft. Beat the eggs in another bowl and whisk in the flour to make a smooth, stiff batter. Stir in the onion, oysters, some salt and pepper and the lime zest and mix well.
Heat a heavy frying pan and melt half the butter. Drop large tablespoons of the oyster batter into the pan, and cook four or five at a time over gentle heat for two minutes until golden, then flip over and cook the other side. Stack the fritters up on baking paper and keep warm while you cook the next batch with a little extra butter. Makes 8-10 fritters.