My favorite poboy is the fried oyster poboy. But not just any fried oyster poboy. The oyster has to be fried just right. Fried not too long, and not too quick. The fried-just-right oyster is one that is lightly fried on the outside but soft, juicy, and tasty on the inside so that when you bite into it the flavor explodes across your taste buds. Luckily for me, my wife of German-ancestry, a wonderful cook, can cook these delicious things to perfection.
Besides, oysters are healthy for you. They’re a good source of zinc in which if you’re deficient you can help supplement it by eating oysters. Also, you’ve heard the saying, eat oysters and love longer. It goes: “Eat fish, live longer – eat oysters love longer – eat clams last longer.” I believe the first two are researched-based; the last one may be a rumor.
Anyway, the Vancleave poboy comes in a close second to the oyster poboy. For the non-locals the Vancleave is a crabmeat poboy with cheese, getting its name, so it’s been said, when a man from Vancleave, Mississippi frequently ate at the old Rosetti’s Restaurant located at the foot of the old Biloxi Bridge and always ordered cheese on his crabmeat poboy. Hence, the Vancleave.
I’ve eaten good oysters in many restaurants but the three that come to mind as having good fried oysters is the Half-Shell Oyster House in Biloxi, Steve’s Marina in Gulfport, and the White Caps Restaurant in Gulfport (sometimes). I’m sure there are others but I don’t order fried oysters on every occasion I eat out.
Before you can eat an oyster poboy you have to go out and tong or dredge for them. And if you’re like me and 99.99% of Coastians you rely on men who do this for a living. May God bless them all. I spent a few summers shrimping with an uncle during my teen years but I never got the chance, nor did I want the chance, to go tonging or dredging for oysters which is done in cold weather, weather I detest at rest much less laboring on the water on a cold, and windy day.
For many years Biloxi was the Seafood Capital of the World and the men who tonged and dredged for oysters in these parts were immigrants from the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic Sea, along with those who were of French ancestry. If you live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and your surname or your mother’s or grandmother’s maiden name is Slavic or French, it’s a good bet that you have a distant relative who worked in the oyster-processing industry and perhaps even shucked them, for the benefit of all who were fortunate enough to be able to eat them.
Shucking an oyster, like many skills, can be a little tricky. It requires one to have a unique sort of dexterity, kind of like fielding and throwing a hit ground ball, having just the right combination of eye contact, firmness, leverage, and finesse, constantly paying attention to what it is you’re shuckin’, less you stab your palm or slice a finger, both of which make you stop shuckin’ -- and this ain’t good. We need all the shuckers we can get. The Guinness World Record for shucking oysters is held by a Toronto restaurateur, Patrick McMurray, who broke his own oyster-shucking record in 2010, separating 38 oysters from their shells in under one minute. He says he could do more.
And speaking of shuckers, we now have a professional baseball team come to town carrying the moniker “Shuckers.” And what better nickname for a professional sports team, especially a baseball team, in our fine town, especially Biloxi. It’s the perfect name for the right team in the right community.
Like real oyster shuckers, we know our baseball Shuckers will apply the good eye contact, and the right balance of firmness, will, leverage, and finesse, constantly paying close attention to the task at hand, avoiding errors, and in the end causing the same excitement and joy one gets when they bite into the perfectly fried oyster.
I realize the logistics are probably prohibitive but it might be nice one sunny spring day when oysters are still in season, to buy a fried oyster poboy at one of the games, perhaps downing it with a cold beer or even a Barq’s root beer. Wouldn’t that be nice? Dreaming on, maybe we could entertain an annual oyster-shucking contest in the month of April while oysters are still in season. Representatives of local restaurants along with wholesalers and freelancers vying for the prestigious Biloxi Shuckers Oyster Shuckin’ Trophy. Who knows -- could happen. Besides, who would’ve thought a professional baseball team would've chose Biloxi as their home? Dreams happen.
I’m thankful for having oysters where I live, and that the governor and others are behind a program to improve their cultivation and harvesting, (May the Oyster Council be enlightened!) and for the men who shuck them, the people who sell ’em, and now the professional baseball team that will forever remind us of our local heritage and the delectable mussel the oyster truly is -- especially if it’s perfectly fried.
Bon appetite! And play ball!