Duxbury Bay Shellfish
Duxbury Bay Shellfish was our third farm tour on my six day Cape Cod adventure with Oyster Aficionado Julie Qiu of In A Half Shell. After exploring WiAnno Oysters from their watery farm to yacht house table for two days, the first year to market Monks Cove Oysters the next day and right before touring Wellfleet's Puffers Petites at sunrise and Mac's Seafood a major distributor, we were ready!
Having been in the industry their entire lives starting in a Duxbury fish market, to Paul eventually managing the neighboring Pangea oyster farm and a crew of four, brothers Paul and Matt Hagan, with their oyster namesake koozie-cooled beers in tow, led us to their boat for what would be a fun filled day out on their beloved Duxbury Bay Shellfish Farm where we would see their soon-to-be-famed King Caesar Oysters.
We boarded the boat and got a guided visual lay of the land as we passed neighboring businesses on the water like, "we call that house the Cotton Candy Factory because of its bright blue color".
And gems like Paul—the elder of the two in his mid-twenties—saying he "feels like an old man" several times. None of the times did we let this comment slide. At one point, perhaps the third of about seven times, the words "you're an old boy and a young man" flew out of my mouth—I felt ancient. My god, like someone's great great bubba with a kerchief tied over her head. In true form, "oy".
Our first stop on the tour was their workstation coined the "Empire State" so named because it stands taller than all of the other workstations. Here we grabbed our needed equipment—waders, mesh bags, rakes—and we were off.
Back on the boat, we entered the color coated buoyed in area isolating their farming grounds from those of others, and headed directly to their, at that moment, submerged oyster cages.
Paul explained to us that twice a day, the bay empties out and exposes the cages allowing for the necessary nutrients and fresh water to flush back to the oysters helping to provide them the necessary foods to grow.
Faster than they could say "we have an extra pair of waders" I was in them and jumping into the bay for that up close and personal experience with their oysters.
Now that I think about it, by boat and by water, the clicks from our cameras must have echoed in surround sound.
Geared up, the brothers selected one of their cages, tilted it onto its side and selected a mesh bag filled with oysters.
Each cage holds several plastic mesh bags filled with oysters at different life stages. The bag that Matt selected had some of their oysters in their middle stage of growth.
For a better look, Paul emptied them out onto the back of the boat for us to all admire and inspect. These younger roughly inch-and-a-half long King Caesar oysters are the ones that we'll all be eating next year!
The brothers explained to us that the market size for distribution to restaurants and markets is three inches and that these have little ways to go.
They then directed the boat over to some of their "for market" color coated labeled crates so that we could try out these royally named three-inch sized oysters.
Matt picked up one of the crates and put it on the back of the boat for us to visually compare to the smaller ones we had seen earlier.
Before tasting them, there were a few things Julie and I noticed. The bowl part of the shells were visibly pretty deep.
Once Paul began to shuck them, we were excited to see that the oysters themselves filled out their shells perfectly! Not to mention the even coloring. They're truly beautiful oysters. (I can't wait for you to try some!)
Ok. Time to eat! Watching my expert friend, I eagerly listened to Julie's reaction and flavor profile. She noted them as being 30-32ppt-ish, with a miso soup savory buttery finish.
As if by homing beacon or dinner bell, their friends pulled up on their own boat to join in and have some of their favorite oysters paired with some beers.
And then off by boat to explore some clams. While in transit, we heard all about where the name King Caesar comes from.
There is a famous house built for Ezra Weston II in 1809 in the town of Duxbury known as the King Caesar House. Weston, known as King Caesar, was a shipbuilder and merchant. After his passing, his home was left to his three sons, which then moved through several hands and ended up being sold to the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society. The house was restored and opened its doors as a museum in 1967. The Duxbury Rural and Historical Society describes the vast and all-encompassing enterprise that Weston created as it "dominated Duxbury in the early 19th century with a large portion of the population employed in the Weston shipyards, farms, wharves, mill, ropewalk, or aboard Weston’s fishing schooners and merchant fleet. Ezra Weston’s ship Hope, built in 1841 was then New England’s largest vessel." After tasting them, I can see how this powerful name suits this incredibly tasty oyster. I have no doubt that it too will be known far and wide.
Matt made sure to point it out this famous house to us from the boat. He noted it's important to him and the current generations by telling us how he took his high school senior class photos there (eek, like a year ago).
With such a dominating and lasting effect on Duxbury and the world along with its very royal sound and personal attachment, the name King Caesar became the obvious choice for the Hagan brothers.
When I asked them their favorite way to cook with oysters. It was as if I had said something taboo (I had a feeling that would be my response). Raw, Michelle. They are at their best when raw. This is one sentiment that all of the oyster farmers we met with agreed on and which I myself agree on.
But I write recipes, so I pushed a bit. With a bit of coercion, Paul noted a recipe from a book that he likes to tweak and make every once in a while. He graciously emailed me a photo of it.
Once I get some of their very delicious oysters sent to me, I have promised to recreate it. I've also been challenged to develope an awesome dish inspired by the Caesar in their King Caesar namesake. Challenge accepted (stay tuned)!