Malpeque Oysters are the original Prince Edward Island (PEI) oysters and are arguably the most popular in all of Canada. If you’re wondering where to find the best PEI oysters, then look no further than Malpeque Bay, Prince Edward Island. The nutrient-rich waters of the area are the perfect harvesting environment for some of the world’s tastiest oysters.
With thin shells and delicate meat, the wild and farmed oysters are a clean and flavorsome shellfish treat. Since they were first voted as the best in the world at the 1900s World’s Fair in France, the delicacy has become a household name. Here’s all you need to know about the Malpeque, PEI, Oyster.
Quick Facts About Malpeque Oysters:
I could talk about (and indulge) in oysters all day. Here is a quick overview of all you need to know about the Malpeque (sometimes spelled Malpaque) Oyster.
- They grow in the Atlantic ocean and the oyster is of Virginica species.
- Although available all year, peak availability of the oyster runs from May until November.
- The tear-shaped shell can be legally sold when it reaches 3 inches in size. The oysters can grow much larger over a longer period of time if allowed.
- The oysters originate from the glacial depths of Malpeque Bay, Prince Edward Island, Canada.
- PEI is the only area where the Malpeque Oyster is cultivated – in the whole world!
- The majority of PEI oysters are farmed. The rest grow wild and are harvested in the traditional way by hands and tongs.
- The meat is tender with a moderate briny taste and a clean finish.
- Malpeque pronunciation is “mal-peck”.
Why Are Prince Edward Island Oysters Famous?
Being named the World’s Best Oyster by the World’s Fair in 1900 skyrocketed the Malpeque oyster in popularity around the world. Since then they have consistently been known as some of the best in the world ever since. The Malpeque oyster is served best at it’s freshest in PEI but is also shipped around the world. From Toronto to China and beyond, you can find the Malpeque oysters exported to many countries.
Oyster production in Prince Edward Island is a work of art. The local fisherman / oyster farmers have perfected the craft of harvesting these rich delicacies. They even harvest in the winter underneath the sea ice when they are particularly plump and sweet.
However, it’s important to note that the Malpeque Oysters have come a long way. In the 1920s, oysters in PEI were ruined by disease caused by the import of oysters from New England. The mortality rate of the oysters in PEI at the time was up to 90%.
The Malpeque Oysters that resisted the disease were then used to restart the oyster farms across the province because of their immunity. As a result, Malpeque Oysters were used to re-seed all oyster beds that were once productive. The oysters then thrived, and today all oysters in the PEI area are now the famed Malpeque Oyster.
How are Malpeque Oysters grown?
While some oysters are harvested in the traditional manner by hand with tongs, the majority of Malpeque Oysters are farmed. These farmed oysters give a 95% return on produce compared to the wild harvest (which offers only 2-5% return). In addition, farmed oysters reach a size worthy of selling within 3-4 years, while wild oysters take up to 5-7 years to reach the same size.
Farmed oysters are grown in cages which are routinely flipped and turned to kill off pests. They are also tumbled about once a year to help them grow an ideal tear drop shape. This also knocks off mussels, barnacles and other pests that might affect them growing and looking pristine. Wild oysters however are grown on the bottom of the ocean floor as they lay. Because of this they are more susceptible to pests, growing funny and being eaten by star fish.
The PEI area farms up to 30 percent of Canada’s total farmed oysters in weight. That contributes nearly $13-million to the aquaculture economy. Needless to say, Malpeque Oysters and the PEI economy have a very healthy relationship.
How To Experience The Malpeque Oyster
PEI oysters are an absolute treat. Whether you’re new to shellfish or consider yourself an oyster-connoisseur, here’s the best way to experience the delicacy.
The most hands on Malpeque Oyster experience that I had while visiting Prince Edward Island was taking an Oyster Obsession cooking class. Run by the Table Culinary Studio this four hour cooking class had us meet a real life PEI Oyster farmer who taught us everything there was to know about oysters. We visited an oyster farm, enjoyed oysters fresh out of the ocean, learned how to shuck oysters and were taught how to eat and cook oysters a few different ways.
If you don’t have time for a cooking class there are many other ways to experience the Malpeque Oyster. You can buy them fresh to take home from MR Seafood, Lobster on the Wharf and other fish markets. Or you can enjoy them fresh at countless restaurants around the island. There are probably more restaurants in Prince Edward Island with oyster bars than not. I have a whole post about where to find the best oysters in PEI here.
You can also check out a few oyster related festivals. Every July/August you can attend the Tyne Valley Oyster Festival. At the festival you can watch the Canadian Oyster Shucking championships and even compete yourself. Every September in PEI you can also go to the PEI Shellfish festival where you can eat and learn about all things shellfish of course including osyters.
How do Malpeque Oysters Taste?
The flavor of the oyster is dependent on the salty brackish water that the oyster grows in. Whether that is in a bay, harbour, cove or creek. Each area can give a different taste and that is known as the merroir. Just how with wine the terrior where its grown can affect it’s tastes as well. For the Malpeque Oyster, the taste reflects the pristine waters that they are harvested in – clean and crisp.
The delicious meat is tender and light in flavor, making it a pleasant experience for those trying oysters for the first time.
Inside the brown and white shell, the oyster offers a great balance between ocean brininess and a clean, sweet finish. The sweet ending and succulent meat are largely due to the cool waters that the oyster is found in. As the waters get colder in the fall months the oyster’s adductor muscle gets stronger to hold the shell together giving you a meatier oyster.
How To Cook Malpeque Oysters
Some might say Malpeque oysters are best eaten fresh as is. They are also great with a squeeze of lemon, horseradish, a dollop of seafood sauce or a nice mignonette. However, in addition to eating them fresh, the best way to enjoy Malpeque Oysters is to cook them.
One way to do so is to open the oyster, loosen the muscle from the shell and squeeze a fresh lemon over the top of the meat. Fill the shell with a mix of breadcrumbs, cheese, and herbs. Put the oysters on a bed of coarse salt (to keep them upright and prevent loss of liquid) and bake the oysters for 10 minutes.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, then there are other recipes that you can try. You can grill them with flavored butter, fry them and serve them with eggs, smoke the oysters and serve them with potato cakes, or make oyster fritters. In the oyster obsession cooking class we also learned how to make Oyster Po’ Boys and grilled oysters with a black garlic cream sauce and bacon jam. Yes, that was as delicious as it sounds.
Best Places To Try Malpeque Oysters
If you find yourself in PEI, you’ll have no problem finding a restaurant with an oyster bar selling the freshest oysters imaginable. Served on a bed of ice with a wedge of lemon, horseradish and fresh mignonettes on the side. You will have to hold yourself back from slurping the entire plate.
When visiting the Malpeque Bay area you will definitely want to add a taste of the oyster to your itinerary. The most popular spot to enjoy Malpeque Oysters is the Malpeque Oyster Barn. The quaint restaurant is loved for its authentic atmosphere and its incredibly fresh oysters served straight from the sea. They also serve the oysters pan-fried, served as a Po’ Boy, and even oysters Rockefeller. The Malpeque Oyster Barn is a popular spot, be sure to book a table in advance or ask to eat at the bar while standing.
You can also find the oysters all of the province. I recommend the Merchant Man restaurant in Charlottetown, the Landmark Oyster House in Victoria by the Sea or the Wheelhouse in Georgetown restaurant on the east coast.
Where To Find PEI Oysters Outside Of Malpeque
Although the best place to indulge in the Malpeque Oyster is PEI, the island exports its products across Canada. Historically, a large portion of the oysters are sent to wholesalers in Quebec and Ontario. You can also find them as far as Asia and in other parts of the world. You can even order them online from the different oysters farms in the province. Check out Raspberry Point for delivery options.
However, I am a firm believer in “the fresher, the better”. It is worth a trip to Prince Edward Island, even if just to taste the famed Malpeque Oysters. And, while you’re there, you can also try other great food from the region such as some of the best lobster rolls, Cow’s Ice Cream and the famous PEI potatoes.
Final Thoughts On Malpeque Bay Oysters
When visiting Malpeque Bay and Prince Edward Island region the world is, quite literally, your oyster. Whether it’s your first, or your hundredth, the Malpeque Oyster is incredibly satisfying and some of the best in the world.
In fact, the Malpeque Oyster is one of the main reasons that PEI has developed a reputation as being Canada’s Food Island. So, if you’re a foodie with a love for seafood, then you simply have to add the Malpeque Oyster to your tasting bucket list.
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