I was recently on vacation for a buddy's wedding in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Quite the nostalgic trip, taking the six hour journey from Philly to Duck. I especially enjoyed seeing all those "OBX" stickers on SUVs, signifying that bourgeois "Hey, I summer in the Outer Banks and I bet you go to the Wildwood, New Jersey, you peasant." I even recalled my sophomoric high school idea of, "Hey guys, we should make "FYB", Fuck Your Beach, stickers in the same design" and how cool I though it was.
However, I have to say the East Coast beach scene is a pretty damn good time. Beer, crabs, sand, corn hole, beach soccer, more beer, more sand, trivial pursuit, two nap days, volleyball, sand everywhere, grilling by the bay, rummi, and seriously, so much sand. It's bad when you go from the ocean, to the beach shower, to the pool, to the real shower and still find sand. It's even worse when you realize a few of your housemates have considered the chlorinated pool as a "shower" for the last 4 days. I really did have a great time though, seeing all my old friends and relaxing for a solid week. Also, having had nothing but Dungeness Crabs for the past year and had Blue Crabs cooked in Old Bay at the beach, I still say East coast crabs are better. Sorry everybody. I know they take more work, but that is half the fun. And, they just taste better.
Anyway, on to the important part. Despite the locale and season, I had to have Oysters. I knew I was rolling the dice on the Chesapeake Oysters the the Sunset Grill and Raw Bar was serving. Could be spawny, could be quite flavorless, or could even be carrying a virus. Hey, at least they had the sense, or perhaps legal obligation, to not serve North Carolinian Oysters. I also find it funny how once you drop below that 37th or 36th parallel, any Oysters on the menu just become "Oysters on the Half Shell" or "Fried Oysters." No regard for appellations, flavor differences, different aquaculture styles, etc. Just grab the Oysters, shuck'em, and dump stupid amounts of lemon juice, cocktail sauce, and hot sauce on them. I have read about the growing respect for regional differences in Gulf Oysters in Texas, though.
So, after having asked where they were from of course, I ordered a dozen "Oysters on the Half Shell" and an Old-Bay-rimmed bloody mary...respect. I got my bloody mary, sipped, took in the tranquility of the bay, and chatted with the friendly Manhattan-native bartender (oxymoronic, no?). The Oysters did come out posthaste, I must say. When they arrived, much to my surprise, at least five of them had Pea Crabs in them. I didn't freak out since I've dealt with them, and, not to gross you out, many other surprises when opening Oysters before. However, I can't imagine that any other customer getting the same wouldn't have gone ape shit. They are pinkish hued, creepy, little Planet Earth Caves episode looking creatures and anyone who hasn't seen one before might be quite taken aback, to say the least.
I decided to play ignorant and ask the bartender what they were. "Oh, they're called pea crabs. If you find one in an Oyster, it means it's a really good one." he responded. Well, I quickly responded with an "actually, good sir, it's Pinnotheres pisum, or, pea crab to the layperson. It's a parasitic crab that lives in Oysters, feeding off both the Oyster's filtered food, and, occasionally, the Oyster's mantle and gills. And I can assure you in no way does it denote a "good one," as you say." No, I'm not that big of an asshole, even though it's all true. I simply said "interesting," brushed them to the side, and ate my dozen Oysters. They were sub par, at best, so I doused on the lemon and hot sauce (after having tasted the first three naked, mind you). If I had wanted crabs, I would have ordered crabs.
Historically, pea crabs have been considered a delicacy, often fried up in garlic, butter, and parsley or sauteed and topped on an Oyster stew or salad. I've tried them, and there's nothing special about them. Fry anything in garlic and butter and it will taste good. I think people just like the shock value and exotic experience of eating them. I simply see no delicacy to them at all, though. Also, they are not baby Blue Crabs, as some may claim. They're a completely different species.
My biggest gripe with the situation was the bartender saying that it indicated a "good Oyster." Having found crabs, worms, seaweed, krill, and even little fish, I can assure nothing besides a plump, succulent, juicy Oyster is what you should be looking for between those two shells. Don't let anyone tell you differently. The only thing you can find better than that inside your Oyster is, of course, a fat Elizabethan pearl that can put your kids through college. Any good shucker should know to either throw that Oyster away, or, to your disdain I'm sure, get rid of whatever little creature was found upon opening before serving the Oyster. Honestly, what I thought had gone without saying, send the Oysters back if they come with any friends.
The SF Oyster Nerd