When Bill Silkes approaches me he is smiling and, as a shellfish lover he has much to smile about. Silkes is president of American Mussel Harvesters, Inc., and he’s a fish guy. More specifically, Bill is a shellfish guy whose office window view is the pristine waters of Allen Harbor just off Davisville, Rhode Island. American Mussel Harvesters, Inc., is one of the largest producers of mussels in North America and a major distributor of oysters and clams as well. In addition to farming mussels, oysters, and clams, Silke’s company also markets and distributes nearly three dozen varieties of oysters from the east and west coast of the United States and shellfish from several provinces in Canada. The company is headed toward total sales of over 10,000,000 pounds of shellfish.
A dozen workers in orange colored rubber overalls are working to pack pallets of oysters and mussels as we tour the cold and damp packing floor. Although the room is chilly, the sweet, clean aroma of fresh shellfish gently touches my nose. I too am a shellfish lover (and a fish guy at heart) and the smell of such pristine, high-quality shellfish is more than enticing; it’s intoxicating. Slikes shows me the massive hydraulic pumps that drive the fresh seawater circulating in the thousand pound totes full of shellfish stacked at one end of the floor. Although American Mussel doesn’t grow every product it sells, it does prep and purge a good portion of its inventory on any given day.
As the oysters and clams sit inside these massive totes full of circulating salt water they filter and purge while gaining strength. Silkes has designed the system so that circulating water passes through a massive ultra-violet sanitizing process assuring that the sterile salt water arriving out the pipe at the top of the system is absolutely free of bacteria. In turn, the shellfish in the totes become happy little buggers, plumping up to peak freshness while purging sand, grit, and trace bacteria prior to being packed and shipped as “restaurant ready” product. The process is brilliant and a perfect example of the food-safety solutions so needed in the global food supply-chain.
Now we are sitting in Silkes conference room with a big pile of fresh shellfish (Raspberry Point Oysters from Canada and Quonset Point Oysters from Rhode Island, mussels and little-neck clams from Narragansett Bay, )
These meaty, briny, cold water oysters are farmed in the shallows off the rocky coast of Prince Edward Island. It’s not unusual for icebergs broken free from the arctic to float buy in sight of where these oysters are grown and the cold water (along with other factors that Silkes can share) are why it takes 5-7 years for Raspberry Points to grow to market size. They have a beautiful briny flavor with an above-average saltiness, good density and texture, and an outstanding clean, sweet aftertaste.
Quonset Point Oysters, Rhode Island
The Quonset’s are a bit saltier than the Raspberry Points and have a meatier texture and composition. They grow faster than their cousins from Canada and take just 2-3 years to reach market size. According to Silkes the plankton levels in the bay are high right now and this impacts the flavor and texture of the Quonsets. I guess we came at the right time because the taste is perfect with an almost crunchy texture they are so fresh.
Little Neck Clams, Narragansett Bay Rhode Island
If you are a clam lover, there is nothing like a perfect Narragensett Bay little neck clam that is ice cold and just shucked. The ones I sampled were perfectly pale orange in color, plump, healthy and fresh with a mild saltiness, great clam flavor and minimal iodine aftertaste (which I like by the way). These clams are what put the “Ocean” in Ocean State.
Restaurant Ready Whitewater Mussels, Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island
For years I have been spiking the sauces I serve over fish with reduced mussel broth. There is nothing nicer than the rich, deep, seafood flavor of mussel broth when the salt level in the mussels used to make the broth is mild. These Whitewater Mussels were mild in salt, sweet and, like the other products I sampled, distinguished by their ultra-fresh state and perfect flavor. Makes you want to pull this photo off the screen and eat it doesn’t it!
Salt Water Farms, LLc.
165 Tidal Drive
North Kingstown, Rhode Island 02852