Responding to a recent reader inquiry, your Bites staff went in search of where to find the best oysters in Nashville during the dog days of summer. Not being the patient sort willing to wait for those "r" months, I consulted a seafood wholesaler for a major local operation.
"So where would you go to get good oysters right now?" I asked.
My anonymous mole mulled the question for a minute and replied, "Nowhere."
This from a man whose livelihood depends on pushing fresh seafood delivered daily from the Gulf Coast to Nashville's finest dining establishments. He could not recommend oysters during July and August, even those served within sight of the ocean.
I had always assumed that the whole fear of eating oysters during the summer was a myth--like the Yeti or the G-spot. Apparently, there's truth to this one, but not necessarily for the reason you might have heard.
According to my oyster monger friend, except for a few privately owned oyster fields, all harvesting is closed during the summer to allow the bivalves some privacy during breeding season. Combined with the difficulty of maintaining an appropriate temperature from boat to truck to kitchen to plate, the ratio of good to bad oysters falls to an unacceptable 5 to 1. With up to a 20 percent funk factor, you're depending on the attentiveness of a possibly hurried and harried restaurant employee to cull the rejects from your platter before you dine. Or even worse, you may be at the mercy of your brother-in-law who already has a 6-pack down when he prepares that Cajun oyster surprise as an appetizer at your Labor Day picnic.
To be fair, most restaurants do an adequate job of buying the best oysters they can find during the hot months. Some compensate by purchasing extra-large instead of their regular size, but relative to the prime-season oysters these won't likely hang off the edges of a Saltine. Do yourself a favor and show a little restraint. By the time SEC football season rolls around, we'll be knee-deep in succulent shellfish. They'll be worth the wait.