Prince Edward Island: Mussels, Oysters and Clams

This is part one of writer Riki Altman's visit to Atlantic Canada. Unlike her trip to Bangkok, this excursion did not involve ping pong balls, broccoli pies, nor drinks with bosoms.

I recently traveled to Prince Edward Island (PEI) and New Brunswick with E. Michael Reidt, the much beloved chef at Area 31. Reidt, I assumed, would get a kick out of seeing how certain aquatic species are farmed, even though they hailed from beyond Fishing Area 31.

Our group also included Jackie Church, a freelance journalist from Boston who writes extensively about sustainable seafood; Chef Jeff Mushin, culinary chair at Le Cordon Bleu in Boston; Chef Marcello Marino, lead chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in Miramar; Chef Jose Duarte of the green restaurant Taranta in Boston (who now also owns a condo in Miami); representatives from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency; and Chef Alain Bosse, rightfully considered the ambassador of all things culinary in Atlantic Canada. Here we are in our sexy waders atop a pile of discarded oyster shells.

After arriving in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and being treated to a tour of the Culinary Institute of Canada/Holland College -- known as the home of Canada's Smartest Kitchen because of all its cool gadgetry -- we dined on Chef Ross Munro's creations in the cellar of Sims Corner. The next morning we were driven by bus to Raspberry Point where we got to see how oysters are harvested. The trip was paid for by the ACOA.

We learned these plastic cages help keep algae, which can clog water flow, out. Raspberry Point oysters aren't considered ready for sale until they grow about 6 or 7 years.

The crew swooned over the taste of the Raspberry Point oysters, plucked fresh from the sea, shucked on the boat, then sucked down with fervor. (I chose to refrain, still recovering mentally from a recent dose of oyster-related food poisoning that turned me into Regan for a week solid.)

Here's Chef Reidt (far right) "tonging" for oysters. According to Maritime Provinces' Fishing Regulations, oyster farmers working in public oyster-fishing areas are only allowed to catch the critters with tongs or rakes. Dredges cause too much damage to the ocean floor, so oftentimes watermen use long-handled tongs to fetch the bivalves from their watery garden.

We lunched at Ship to Shore, a really cool spot co-owned by mussel grower Stephen Stewart and three-time Canadian shucking champion, John Bil (shown above).

He and his staff treated us to a feast of Billi Bi soup (here's the recipe--no need to thank me), buffalo mussels, oysters (natch), and fried steamer clams, before bursting our guts with funnel cakes and fresh strawberries.

Later that day we watched mussel farmers at work and visited a processing plant. Check back Monday for photos of that incredible experience.

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Riki Altman