Juicy. Succulent. Aphrodisiac. These are some of the adjectives people have used to describe oysters. But even though they’re a familiar sight on dinner plates, many of us may not be aware of where our oysters come from or how they are actually farmed.
The next time you’re slurping down some briny goodness, save your breath to ask some questions about provenance, because there’s a chance the oyster you’re eating might just be farmed right here in Singapore.
Situated on the northern edge of Pulau Ubin, Sea Farmers @ Ubin is Singapore’s first and only oyster farm. Here, you’ll find several varieties of oysters to sink your teeth into – there’s a sweet and delicate varietal aptly-named Sweetheart; a meaty and briny-sweet Romeo that makes for a true epicurean delight; and the creamy Rockstar, which ends on a sweet note and is a firm favourite amongst beginners. The cream of the crop though are arguably the jumbo Pacific oysters, which are a perfect blend of sweet and creamy notes and less briny compared to their Atlantic counterparts.
Once every three months, Sea Farmers @ Ubin imports spat (oyster larvae) from Australia and cultivates them in local waters until they mature to about eight centimetres in length. Around 300,000 oysters of various sizes are bred at any one time in the floating farm, which spans across roughly three basketball courts. Adopting an off-bottom farming method, the oysters are kept in mesh baskets suspended on planks of wood away from the sea bed. With each passing wave, these baskets and their contents are tumbled around, which in turn keeps the bivalves tightly shut. The result? Oysters that boast both a crunchy texture and nutty flavour.
Contrary to common adage of how wild-caught seafood are of better quality, the reverse tends to be true with oysters. In the wild, oysters lying on the seabed are exposed to the elements and predation, causing them to prioritise growing thicker shells for better protection. On the other hand, farmed oysters are kept in a cage sheltered from predators. This enables them to divert their energy from growing thick shells towards cultivating more meat. As a result, farmed oysters are often plump, juicy and boast a higher meat content.
Another misconception that Sea Farmers @ Ubin is looking to overturn is the bias against oysters reared in warm waters. Oysters don’t thrive only in cold waters; in fact, our tropical climate can be more favourable for farming the bivalves, as food in the sea is more abundant when the water temperatures are higher. With a ready supply of phytoplankton, oysters can grow faster without going into hibernation, resulting in the farm being able to harvest and supply fresh oysters all year round.
The only downside is that warmer waters tend to lead to a lot more biofouling, which sees rapidly reproducing barnacles and mussels attaching themselves to the oysters and competing for food. To counter this, the Sea Farmers team attends to each oyster individually on a daily basis, taking great care to scrape off these unwanted neighbours that hinder the growth of the oysters. After cleaning, the oysters are sorted according to size, then lowered back into the sea to continue their growth journey.
Whenever an order for a batch of oysters is made, Sea Farmers @ Ubin insists on delivering them in (almost) farm-fresh conditions: unshucked. The reason is simple: the shellfish dies seconds after shucking, and if not consumed immediately, it goes bland and flat-tasting.
But before the oysters are dispatched, they first have to undergo a depuration process. Upon harvest, every oyster is submerged in a tank of clean water for a few days to purge any biological contaminants or physical impurities that it may have collected from the sea. Thoroughly cleaned, the oysters are then deemed safe for raw consumption.
As palates evolve and diners become more discerning, it’s high time we Singaporeans learn to better appreciate the care and dedication that goes into producing our local food. So cheers to our local oyster farmers – pop that glass of bubbly, and while you’re at it, don’t forget to have an oyster or six.
- Upon receiving your oysters, check that they are tightly closed. Each individual oyster should feel heavy due to the meat and water contained within.
- Quality oysters have a hard shell that won’t chip when shucked.
- Take a whiff of the oyster after shucking. You should only smell the sea, not anything fishy.
- Similar to tasting red wine, inhale and savour the different notes of the oyster before swallowing. Take note of the aftertaste too; it should have a faint taste of the sea.
- Oysters are best consumed on the day of delivery for optimum freshness. If necessary, store them in the refrigerator in the original cooler pack. However, take care not to keep them for too long, as oysters lose their moisture when refrigerated.