Aw, shucks: Did you know today is National Oyster Day?
Landlocked or not, Kansas Citians will get the chance to belly up to a new oyster and raw bar this fall when Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar, a Denver-based seafood restaurant, sets up shop in the new Plaza Vista complex in the Country Club Plaza, 900 W. 48th St.
The raw bar features its own proprietary boutique oyster called the Emersum. The Emersum is exclusive to Jax. It is grown for the restaurant by Rappahannock River Oysters, a 100-year-old company that sustainably harvests Rappahannocks, Stingrays, Snow Hills and Olde Salts from the Chesapeake Bay region.
RRO is owned by cousins Ryan and Travis Croxton, 2005 recipients of Food & Wine’s Tastemaker Award. The Croxtons also were the subject of an Emmy-nominated, James Beard Award-winning PBS series Chef’s Afield episode “Olde Salts. Young Guns” which aired in 2009.
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Jax’s Emersum oysters reflect what the sustainable seafood community refers to as “merroir,” a seaworthy play on wine’s terrior. Wine gets its distinctive flavor from the climate and type of soil the grapes are grown in, providing a distinct sense of place. Likewise, Emersum oysters are grown in at an exact latitude and longitude to guarantee a medium-size oyster with balanced salinity.
“The closer to the ocean, the more salinity,” Jax executive chef Sheila Lucero says during a recent phone interview. “Further in, the more brakish the water gets and the taste is coppery and brassy, with green notes if there is algae around.”
To find the oyster they wanted to brand their own, the Jax crew tasted a lot of different oysters from a lot of different locations. They eventually chose their favorite flavor profile and named it “Emersum,” short for “Them are some tasty oysters.”
“The oyster bar is a huge piece of what we do,” Lucero says. “It’s a show. (The raw bar is) the first thing you see. The oysters are shucked to order...We serve the Emersum at all our stores and people seem to love it. Every year our sales have grown. People really seem to be seeking out boutique oysters. They have become aware of the flavor of where each oyster is grown.”
Thanks to commercial harvesting of oysters, seasonality is less of an issue than it has been in the past. In other words, you no need to avoid eating oysters in months that don’t have an “r” in the name, Lucero says.
Meanwhile, rather than sending the calcium-rich oyster shells to the landfill, Jax sends them back yo RRO for use in aquaponic farms, or for reef building for the aquatic life in the Chesapeake Bay.