Green Gill Oysters - Gastro Obscura
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Green Gill Oysters

North Carolina's seasonal delicacy is brought to you by algae.

In North Carolina’s waterways, seasonal blooms of Haslea ostrearia, a type of microalgae, turn oysters a vibrant shade of blue-green. For harvesters who find them, or work in beds rich with the algae, they are a treat: an oyster whose taste, described as especially briny and delicious by those in the industry, is as unique as its coloring. 

For decades, though, harvesters and restaurants had to throw out their green gill oysters, or sell them at a steep discount. Green seafood was just too much of a leap for diners—even though green oysters known as fines de claires, which are harvested from clay ponds in Marennes-Oléron, France, where levels of Haslea ostrearia are carefully maintained, have long been considered local delicacies. To gain similar respect for North Carolina’s green oysters, harvesters and chefs have engaged in robust education efforts, which are paying off as restaurants successfully give the oysters top billing and fine-dining establishments outside the state now seek them out. (Although some diners still order them as a dare.)

The successful marketing of green gill oysters is a bit bittersweet, since the increased demand has made the oyster, which is available only in the spring, harder to find. But most local chefs are pleased that they’re being served to eager customers instead of thrown back into the sea.

Need to Know

Note that green gill oysters are available only in the spring, so it's best to check in advance if restaurants and bars have them, and many harvesters and eateries call them by alternative names. Dave “Clammerhead” Cessna,  a seventh-generation fisherman who was instrumental in putting green gill oysters on the map, calls his Atlantic Emerald, while N. SEA. Oyster Co. calls them Divine Pine. Just ask about green oysters.

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