Love at First Slurp

Our obsession with oysters began with the Lynnhaven.

Five days before Christmas 1606, Capt. Christopher Newport stood on the cold, windy docks in Blackwall, East London. With him, 144 men and boys boarded the Godspeed, Susan Constant, and Discovery and set sail toward the English Channel, then into open sea.  

Four months later, on April 26, Newport anchored the ships off Cape Henry, off the Virginia Beach coast and the crew made their way ashore. The next day, George Percy, the crew’s diarist and future governor of Virginia, encountered Indians roasting oysters: “When they perceived our coming, they fled away … and left many of the Oysters in the fire. We ate some … which were very large and delicate in taste.”

So began Virginia’s 416-year love affair with the oyster named for the bay where Percy shucked his first.

Today, Bay McLaughlin is among a handful of oystermen working these historic waters. “We’ve always had a passion for the Lynnhaven. Our father and grandfather lived as watermen here,” says McLaughlin who, with his brothers, Bruce and Craig, founded First Landing Seafood Company in 2021.  

The McLaughlins’ proprietary Lynnhaven Fancies, Legacies, and Monsters are farmed on 70 acres of prime oyster leases in Tidewater’s Region 7, one of Virginia’s eight oyster growing regions—each with its own distinctive flavor. The Lynnhavens of Region 7 are known for being plump, tender, and slightly sweet, with a buttery creaminess and noticeable saltiness.

Napoleon relished their flavor. James “Diamond Jim” Brady did, too. Queen Victoria called them “fancies.” And during a 1909 visit, President Taft ate more than 10 dozen in one sitting. 

“We are super fortunate that the tidal flows in Virginia give the Lynnhaven an unforgettable taste that you won’t find anywhere else,” says McLaughlin. FirstLandingSeafood.com, VirginiaOysters.org 


Classic Mignonette

A nice alternative to cocktail sauce. 

  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced shallot
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Whisk vinegar, shallot, and pepper in a small bowl. Spoon over raw oysters. Yields about 1/2 cup.


Roasted Oysters

Delicious when done on the grill.

Rinse and scrub 4 dozen oysters under cold water; set aside. Heat grill to medium-high. Place oysters, flat-side up, on grill and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the shells open at least a quarter-inch. 

Remove oysters from grill with tongs and, with a gloved hand, open with an oyster knife, being careful not to spill juices. Discard empty top shell and slide oyster knife under the meat to release; arrange on plate. Serve with melted butter or sauce for dipping. Yields 4-8 servings.


Fried Oysters

Juicy and tender with a crispy exterior. 

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 24 large oysters, shucked
  • 2–3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2–3 tablespoons butter

Mix the flour, cornmeal, salt, black pepper, and cayenne together in a shallow pan. Dredge the oysters, one at a time, in the mixture and place on a wax paper-lined baking sheet to rest for five minutes before cooking.

Heat oil and butter in a skillet on high heat until very hot, then add the oysters, separating them so they brown and do not steam. Sauté for about 30 seconds, turn, and sauté for an additional 30 seconds or until coating is golden brown. Remove oysters to a paper towel-lined plate to drain slightly. Yields 4 servings.


Eater’s Digest

Crassostrea virginica: The scientific name for Virginia’s principal commercial oyster.  

Cup: The bowl-shaped half of the shell, handy for serving an oyster on the half shell.  

Merroir: The distinctive taste oysters derive from their waters.  

Pea crab: If you find one alive in a raw oyster, it’s considered good luck and a delicacy.  

“R” Months: Contrary to popular belief, oysters are safe and delicious year-round, not just in months that end in “r.” 

Wild oysters: Dredging damages their natural habitat, so 95 percent of oysters are now farm-raised.

Patrick Evans-Hylton is an award-winning food journalist based in Virginia. He covers culinary trends at VirginiaEatsAndDrinks.com.

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