How to Grow a World Record-Breaking Giant Oyster
Cultivated on Dorset coastline, Pete Miles' gargantuan oyster is half a kilogram heavier than the current title holder for world's largest oyster. “It would give you a hard-on for a week,” he says.
"Yeah, it would give you a hard-on for a week, wouldn't it?" Pete Miles jokes, holding aloft what must be the biggest oyster I've ever seen.
I'm in a grey car park in an overcast Weymouth, Dorset. Behind the pavilion, Miles shows me the inside of his van, where an impressive collection of monstrous shellfish sits on ice. They're bulbous, jagged things, full of protein and saltwater.
"This one is 2.2 kilograms," Miles says of the one in his hand. "She's a beauty. We've got some longer, perhaps some wider too, but this one is heaviest, it has the most meat. It's quite something. When I picked it up it was even weightier, because of all the mud but after washing it off, it measured 2.2 kilograms."
We're having to be a little covert about this particular oyster because we're at the Dorset Seafood Festival and mutterings of a "giant" beast are already doing the rounds, amid the lobster and scallops also on display.
Miles didn't want to unleash his beastlike oyster too soon because it could one day be famous. Judging from the most recent listing on the Guinness World Records (GWR) site, his oyster well exceeds the registered holder. To date, a Pacific oyster (the same species as Miles') at 35.5 centimetres long, 10.7 centimetres wide and 1.62 kilograms in weight, found on the shores of the Wadden Sea in Denmark, holds the title.
Miles and I have contacted the GWR team but verification can be a lengthy process. The organisation's Doug Male told me it often "takes more than just having an adjudicator on site" as oysters' curved, lumpy shape makes exact measurements difficult to pinpoint.
Still, whether Miles' mollusc takes the world record or not, his haul remains extraordinary. One oyster appears fatter than a whole chicken, another longer than a rugby ball.
The 52-year-old runs Dorset Oysters from Poole, about 40 minutes drive from our Weymouth car park, along the south coast. A sister company called Othniel Oysters farms them on 103 acres of the fishing town's shores, and Miles believes it's the environmental conditions and methods of fisherman Gary Wordsworth that makes for such mammoth oysters. Poole has gentle, short tides, meaning the shellfish are regularly submerged beneath the English Channel's salty waves.
"I think we're different to most oyster farms because in Poole, in our bit of coastline where we keep ours, the water doesn't drop significantly," Miles explains. "Most farms are far more tidal and the oysters get exposed. Of course there's a tide in Poole but usually, the oysters are under the water and that means they're always doing the business. I think this helps them grow bigger."
But there's another trick—Wordsworth's "jet hose machine" technique.
"He grows the oysters on a barge until they're about an inch long—so big enough to be safe from crabs—then he lets them out, free," says Miles.
Because the Othniel oyster beds are nearly always under water, conventional tractor farming isn't an option. Instead, Wordsworth uses a jet stream to raise the oysters from the seabed, and then a conveyor belt, which lifts the shellfish out of the water without damaging them.
A stainless steel mesh then brings the oysters up onto the barge and those ready are handpicked. The rest are put back to continue growth. It's an eco-friendly way of working, keeping the seabed well stocked and undisturbed, and the oysters unharmed.
Miles says that "stimulating the oysters" is also beneficial: "The more they're moved about, the more they react and grow. Gary's machine blows air under the oysters, which means they rise up a little from the seabed. It rubs off the flaky sides, and helps a good cup to develop underneath, so the meat sits in a larger, protected area, with plenty of fluid."
This attention to detail enables Wordsworth and Miles to farm some of the finest oysters in Britain. Once the shellfish are picked, they're filtered and put in seawater tanks ready to be sold.
About 75 percent of the crop goes directly to Hong Kong to be turned into oyster sauce—usually the bigger ones that couldn't be sold at market or to restaurants. Miles then cherry picks about 10 percent to sell to top London restaurants including Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill and HIX. Many of the oysters also end up at Miles' own Poole restaurants, The Cruel Sea and Storm, where he makes oyster schnitzels.
"I season them, then cover them in an egg yolk wash and breadcrumb. Then just fry them in shallow oil," Miles explains. "They're a bit like po' boys but not exactly. They're oyster schnitzels—it means I can use huge oysters properly. Most restaurants and supermarkets only want smaller ones, if supermarkets bother buying British at all."
Will he be using his latest, giant batch for this Bavarian-inspired dish?
"I don't know what I'm going to do with this fucker," Miles replies. "It's, er, yeah—just here right now. All of these, the long ones, the other ones getting close to 2 kilograms, it's not easy to give them a home. We'll see."
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in July 2015.