Trying to seek out more ethical seafood? Well look no further. Oysters are about as sustainable as a seafood can get. And some of the very best oysters in the world are yours for the tasting at Flying Fish thanks to chef Peter Robertson and Appellation Oysters.
If you’ve spent any time on the beautiful estuaries and rivers of the New South Wales coast, you might have already spotted one of the state’s most delicious delicacies. This long coastline is dubbed Australia’s Oyster Coast, and it’s from here that Appellation Oysters handpicks the rock oysters that land on your plate at famed Sydney seafood restaurant Flying Fish.
Even with all the best Australian seafood at his fingertips, chef Peter Robertson can’t go past an oyster. “Oysters are probably one of my favourite seafood ingredients. I think it might be true of most Australians as well,” he says. It’s certainly true of diners at Flying Fish; Peter estimates that 90 per cent of them order the oysters, served with his popular turmeric vinaigrette. Appellation rock oysters have starred on the menu at Flying Fish since the restaurant first opened at The Star Sydney.
Once known as the Sydney Rock Oyster, the renowned shellfish is found along 1200km of pristine NSW coastline (except, ironically, in Sydney). Appellation Oysters is the premium grading program developed by Australia’s Oyster Coast, a collective of 60-plus oyster farmers producing this world-class seafood. The collective offers a year-round supply of fresh rock oysters, providing chefs like Peter the finest oysters fished out of NSW waters on any given day. “We know just by choosing Appellation Oysters, we’re going to get a pretty primo oyster,” he says.
Discovering oyster ‘merroir’
Ever heard of terroir? The French term, used to describe the impacts of minute environmental variables on the taste of a wine, was adopted to explain a similar effect in oysters. Terroir + marine = ‘merroir’ – a term used to explain the sense of place you get from gulping down an oyster. Appellation Oysters even employs oyster ‘sommeliers’ who travel the coast sourcing the best oysters.
“It’s probably one of the things that I like most about oysters,” Peter says. “If you know what you’re looking for, they really taste like where they come from.”
In Peter’s experience, diners asked about the origins of their oysters decades before they started questioning where other seafood came from. It’s connected to an oysters unique ability to taste like its environment. As natural filters, oysters take on the natural qualities of the water. Closer to the ocean, Peter explains, and your oyster will taste fresher, saltier and a bit sweeter. Travel further upstream, he says, and the oyster will have more vegetal flavours and minerality from the river and native plant life.
The fact that no two crops of oysters taste the same is part of their charm for chefs. The newest catch of oysters is proudly displayed on ice at Flying Fish, with signs providing the region and tasting notes. “It’s almost key to what Flying Fish is about,” Peter says. “It’s the first thing you see when you walk in the door – the selection of oysters that we have on hand on any given day.”
The sustainable seafood to beat
Not only are NSW oysters tasty little umami flavour bombs, they’re also one of the most ethical seafoods you can choose. “Oyster fisheries, in general, are a good model for sustainable fish farming,” Peter says. Sustainability is a huge concern of Peter’s, who believes that “food in general is a huge contributor to where we’ve got ourselves in this point in time.” By sourcing sustainable, local seafood, he can cut down his restaurant’s carbon footprint. Partnering with suppliers like Appellation are key to doing so.
Appellation rock oysters are endemic to NSW, so grow naturally there without interference. They not only have minimal impact on the environment but are natural filters that actually purify water systems. Even the wood frames once used by oyster farmers, Peter explains, are now replaced with renewable plastics. Appellation Oysters leave the farm packed in cardboard and hessian and arrive alive, so need minimal refrigeration until they are shucked to order. The oyster’s lack of a central nervous system has even inspired the argument that oysters are vegan (don’t @ us).
Adding to the green credentials, most of Peter’s oysters have come from no further than 100 to 200km away (basically ‘down the road’ in Australian terms). “I think it’s important to work with local suppliers, and Appellation Oysters is a good example of that because they are super local,” he says. “Wallis Lake, Batemans Bay, Shoalhaven – it’s all a stone’s throw from Sydney really.”
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