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June 29, 2022

Oysters and Muscles Alive, Alive, oh!

After driving past the Carlsbad Aquafarm several times, I took the time to register for their tour.  Tours fill quickly, to reserve a spot registration is required online. The cost was $35.

From their website

Just last month (May 17, 2022) Sunset Magazine published a very favorable article, which is available HERE

My tour was 13 people, let by the farm Supervisor – Matt.  We could not have asked for a more knowledgeable docent.  Perfect because I had a few prepared questions!

[softball question 1]: I asked Matt if he had read the Sunset Magazine article – 'YES, I was their guide and did the interview’.  Whoa – didn’t expect that.

He showed us the trays the oysters are raised on.  Initially there would be several thousand little oyster ‘embryos’ to a tray.  As they grow they are separated into more trays for additional space.

Mussels are grown on ropes.  The muscles will send out a ‘beard’ to attach themselves to the rope.  They can detach and reattach beards to find a more favorable feeding spot.

Oysters on the other hand are happy as a clam sitting on their tray.

Remember the massive gray concrete tower standing beside I-5? It was therevsince 1954, for the carbon fired Encina Power Plant?  The plant was retired in 2018 and the stack along with the rest of the plant demolished.  A smaller, more efficient power station was built creating parking area for the Aquafarm ... and tours began.

The Carlsbad  Desalinization Plant  was also built on the property.  The plant provides 50 million gallons of fresh water a day.   

[softball question #2] How much is the water temperature changed by the purification process?  ‘Not at all it's the same, but ~2% more salt on the discharge.’  I asked because the old Encina cooling towers would warm the discharge by 20 degrees.  A great place for the locals to swim or fish.

Oyster eggs and sperm are so small the farm uses a microscope to tell the males and females apart.  An oyster can change its sex several times.  Who knew ?  I mean beside the Kardashians!

Oysters as they grow

The farm is located on the ocean side of the lagoon Agua Hedionda (Spanish for Skinky Water), the larger part of the lagoon is to the east.

[softball question #3]  What is the name of your lagoon?  Matt explained the Spanish raised cattle here and the pollution was so bad it gained the reputation of Agua Hedionda (Stinky Water).  Matt went on to say that for 3 million dollars a parcel of Stinky Ranch (Rancho Hedionda) which is being developed is available as I write this post.  Maybe the developers don’t speak Spanish or they liked the sound and hoped the buyers didn’t speak Spanish.  Would you buy a Smelly/Stinky Ranch lot for 3 million?  Well it is Carlsbad …

We were guided past the pure salt water tanks where the oysters are purified for a couple days.

There are four filter tanks, each capable of holding a dozen oyster trays.  This ensures the final product has no sand, or other contaminants.

While there the team was sorting and cleaning and sorting oysters for distribution
Sorting station

Ready for distribution

After the tour it was time for the interactive part.  Matt demonstrated both the right and left handed way of handling a shucking knife and glove.  Obviously he has had practice.

The idea is to insert the shucking knife at an angle into the hinge and twist.  Not as easy as it sounds!

Each of us on the tour were given 6 oysters, the house hot sauce, lemon wedges and set to strut our skillful comprehension of the shucking task.

Lot’s of fun! 

OOPS got some oyster juice on the camera lens!  Pardon the fuzzy pics :)
We each had our own shucking station where an oyster knife and gloves were provided.

I wasn’t impressed with their house hot sauce.  Next time I’d bring my own Cholula or Tapatio sauce.

Since my daughter is the only other oyster eater in the family I took the afternoon tour, with the plan to take some oysters to her for grilling or smoking.

For $20 I picked up a dozen Pinnacle Point Oysters for her and a pound of muscles ($8) for me.  Of course we shared but I still have enough for lunch tomorrow! :)) … and hers are gone :))
One of her earliest memories is grilling and eating oysters on the beach in Oregon.  Perhaps age 5 ???

So that’s what we did.  She grilled the oysters on her Big Green Egg.  She wasn’t sure about the muscles, so we only added four.  But we are wanting more already!

The garnish she used was fresh from her garden - Thai red peppers – not real hot; garden fresh dill; fresh lemon; and butter (from the grocery).

The oysters were placed on the grill (flat side up) to conserver the 'oyster liqueur' after cooking.

Since she had not had mussels I tossed a few in.  All came out awesome!, and the fresh dipping sauce really brought the flavors to life.

Want one?

Perfect to share oysters without sand and other contaminants found in the ones I've had in the past.

So what happened to the rest of the muscles?  I ate them!  And don't tell my daughter ... I took a couple of her oysters ... :))

The knife is to trim the 'beard' off the muscles.  They generate several strands of hair that they use to find the best food sources.  A single muscle can move about using their beards to find the best food sources. 

I got a nice steamer pot going and tossed them all in for about 5 minutes to cook the muscles.   The oysters would take a few minutes longer.

A glass of white wine and a bowl of muscles with my own concoction of garlic/wine/butter sauce.  Oh so yum!

OK it is a splurge, but I’d do it again!  It was so much fun, educational, and history that I did not know.  Next time my daughter will be there too!  We're gonna have so much fun!, and enjoy a few oysters.  Want to join us?