WILMINGTON, N.C. (CAPE FEAR WEEKEND) - October is all about oysters in North Carolina. It’s the month of national seafood month, wild oyster season and the celebration of the North Carolina Oyster Trail.
In the heart of Downtown Wilmington, Seabird is known for their outstanding seafood and oysters. We’re speaking with owner and chef Dean Neff while he cooks us one of their most popular oyster dishes, Oyster Hollandaise.
Neff says that oyster season is typically from October 15th to March 15th every year and he sources all of their oysters from local North Carolina farms.
“When we first opened in 2021 we were bringing in oysters from from Maine and Prince Edward Island in Canada. But, as we immersed in being open here and meeting all of the wonderful oyster farmers in the area, there’s a lot of variation and all of the oysters that are brought to us are local. We felt like it’s really a nice thing to represent this area in North Carolina because there’s so much diversity in the oysters,” said Neff.
As someone who’s not from the east coast, when you sit down at a restaurant you appreciate the food more when you know it’s farmed locally and chef Neff agrees.
“Working with people who are local and they’re bringing ingredients that are from the area, it just makes sense to do that. Because it gives you an experience that’s unique, but it also is an authentic experience. It’s also better for the environment, you’re not shipping things from however many of thousands of miles away, such as Alaska,” said Neff.
Seabird is kicking off the oyster season with a special dinner on November, 14th, which is a Tuesday and the restaurant is normally closed on that day of the week. They’re opening up just for this special event with food locally sourced from Masonboro Island.
Seabird works with Ana Shallem, a local commercial fisherwoman, to harvest wild clams, oysters, mussels and stone crab by hand and usually off of Masonboro Island.
“She brings us wild juniper, whelk, wild mussels, wild oysters, and a lot of fun things such as sea urchins sometimes. So, she’s going to be bringing us all of her stuff and we’re going to hold a dinner celebrating and showcasing the area, the oyster season and all of the great work that she does,” explained Neff.
If you want to experience this special night of seafood, you can reserve your table on OpenTable.
Now... getting to the recipe of the dish chef Neff made for us, their popular Oyster Hollandaise.
“We’ve got blue crab meat in the bottom of the oyster. We warm that up lightly with a little lemon juice, and then we hit it with a very simple hollandaise, we take a Sea Birdie Oyster, fry it and kind of toss it in our hot sauce to make sort of a buffalo oyster. We put it on top and people can kind of pick it up and sort of eat the whole thing and one bite,” explained Neff.
What we learned in the Seabird kitchen is that if you tap on a closed oyster shell and it sounds hollow, then the oyster may have died and bled out the fresh ocean juices so it’s best to throw it away. If it sounds solid and not hollow, then that’s a good sign that the oyster is alive and ready to eat.
Another learning experience moment we had is when the cups of the oyster are deeper you can tell that they were farm raised oysters. They form this way when the cages are constantly shaken in the water. If the shell is more flat then it’s most likely a wild oyster and I’d be more skeptical to eating it with a professional opinion.
Now, more about this special recipe at Seabird...
Once the oysters are popped open then they’re dropped into a buttermilk then transferred into a mixture of cornmeal and flour dredge. While that’s happening the shells with crab meat are being warmed up in the oven.
Now, it’s time to fry the oysters in a hot oil. After a few minutes they’re tossed in Seabird’s homemade hot sauce that consists of hot sauce, butter, ghost chili and bell shaped peppers. After they’re coated it’s time to take out the warmed oyster shells and crab meat and add hollandaise sauce on top. Lastly, place the buffalo glazed oysters on top and garnish the plate with seasonal ingredients.
Although chef Neff can’t give away the secrets that makes these oysters so delicious, so you’ll have to stop by the restaurant to give them a try!
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