How to Shuck Oysters, Cook Mussels, and Boil Lobster: Recipes and Travel Tips Inspired by Prince Edward Island

by Matt Moore on July 31, 2013 · 26 comments

in Cooking, Food & Drink, Travel & Leisure

These days, you’d be hard pressed to not find a restaurant menu listing one of my favorite dishes – P.E.I. mussels. Years ago, diners were often confused by the P.E.I. abbreviation, which is often the case on many-a-chef-driven menus. Over time, however, diners have come to learn that P.E.I. references one specific island where cold water mussels are sourced from crystal blue waters – making them some of the best and most accessible mussels in the world. That island is Prince Edward Island, Canada.

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In the same way California branded its wine regions or Wisconsin its cheese, Prince Edward Island has created a brand around both seafood and potatoes – with other industries including local island beef and craft beer not far behind. It should come as no surprise then that P.E.I. is always a top destination for chefs and food lovers alike.

Chefs – just like artists, writers, painters, and musicians – truly benefit from travel and experiencing different foods, cultures, and people. We discover new ingredients, techniques, and applications which allow us to transform and adapt our cooking styles to create unique and inspired dishes.

Fortunately, I’m able to combine much of my work with travel, and I’ve had the opportunity to visit this special island multiple times over the past few years. Since the island is a “foodie” paradise, I thought I would share some of my favorite recipes that are influenced by the bounty of fresh seafood found on the island, along with some travel tips should you have an opportunity to make a trip to P.E.I. yourself. Of course, one doesn’t have to visit or source their ingredients from this utopia to try out the recipes below. No matter where you source your seafood, the following techniques and recipes still apply.

How to Shuck an Oyster

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It doesn’t get any manlier than shucking and eating raw oysters on a fishing boat in the open water. Award-winning Chef Ross Munro of P.E.I. Culinary Adventures gives us the lowdown on how to shuck the perfect oyster, every time.

  1. Secure the top and bottom of the oyster on a towel against a hard surface.
  2. Insert an oyster knife into the ‘key’ or hinge – do not force pressure towards your hand – instead twist the knife to pop open the shell.
  3. Use the knife to remove the top and bottom abductor muscles, remove grit, and serve.

Steamed P.E.I. Mussels

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On the island, mussels are most often served as simply as possible. After all, you want to savor their delicate flavor without getting distracted by over-the-top seasonings or garnishes. Sure, you will find recipes finished in cream, topped with smoked bacon, or even laden in curry sauces – but I prefer letting these little guys speak for themselves. This is a great appetizer to whip up quickly in a single pot – just serve with an empty bowl so guests can discard their shells. A crusty bread is also a must for sopping up all the great juices! (Prep 5 mins, Cook 10 mins, Serves 4)

2 lbs P.E.I. Mussels
1 cup dry white wine
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons parsley, minced
Fresh lemon wedges, if desired

Bring all ingredients to a steady steam over medium-high heat in a 5-quart pot – keep covered. Steam for 5-8 minutes (or until mussels open). Remove from heat and serve.

P.E.I. Low Country Boil

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The following recipe is the perfect example of combining my love of Southern cuisine with fresh P.E.I. ingredients. In Louisiana, crawfish boils are a staple throughout spring and summer – a crowd-friendly dish which allows you to basically cook every ingredient together in a large pot. Dining is communal, as the large pot of ingredients is typically poured out on tables lined with newspapers, allowing diners to stand side-by-side, eating with their hands, and conversing over spicy food and cold beer. This recipe ups the ante by adding in fresh lobster. I prefer to boil the lobsters whole, dropping them into the pot head first to cook. If you feel it is more humane to kill the lobsters prior to boiling, simply use a sharp knife to quickly cut the top of the lobsters head where the lines in the shell form a big T. You can separate the claws and tails after cooking to allow diners to enjoy different parts of the lobster. (Prep 30 mins, Cook 45 mins, Serves 8–12)

5 lbs small red potatoes
5 lbs Vidalia (sweet) onions, quartered
3 lbs fresh yellow corn, shucked, and cut in half
2 lbs large button mushrooms
5 lbs smoked andouille sausage
5 lobsters, each 1-2 lbs in size
5 lbs large Shrimp, deveined, head and shell on
10 lbs large live crawfish

Seasonings:

5-6 bay leaves
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup paprika
½ cup cayenne pepper

2 heads of garlic
1 bunch of celery
3 lemons (halved)
½ cup black peppercorns
6 light beers
Creole seasoning blend

Fill a large 60-quart pot 2/3-full of water. Use seawater if you can or add a cup of salt if that’s not available. If you don’t have a big ol’ 60-quarter, you can fifth the recipe and use a 12-quart pot.

Add all seasonings into the pot. Crank up the heat with the lid on to quicken the process. Once the water comes to a boil, add potatoes and onions. After 5-10 minutes, add mushrooms and return to a slow boil. After 10 minutes add corn and sausage. Allow the water to come back to a strong boil for 1-2 minutes and add the lobster. Return to a slow boil. Immediately turn off the heat, add shrimp and crawfish, and cover the pot. Allow the pot to sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes. Next, stir the pot to ensure that the crawfish are bright red in color and the shrimp are pink and firm. Note, at this point you can allow the boil to soak up more flavor/heat, by allowing it to rest. Drain the pot and pour out on a large table covered with newspapers. Season the boil with Creole seasoning. Have lemon slices and paper towels readily available.

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If you don’t have a big basket to drain the food, use a strainer.

If You Go to Prince Edward Island

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Overview: Prince Edward Island is located on Canada’s east coast – representing one of three Maritime Provinces. It is the smallest province in the nation, both in land area and population, and it is often referenced as the “Birthplace of Confederation” as it hosted the 1864 conference which led to the Canadian Confederation. It’s on Atlantic Time, which is one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

When to go: Summer is the most popular time, as temperatures range from 55-85 degrees F. The island hosts several festivals during summer, and it’s also a top destination for vacationers seeking to soak up the sun on the beach. Fall ushers in Fall Flavours – a month-long food celebration without the summer crowds.

Getting there: There are non-stop daily flights into Charlottetown (YYG) through Toronto (YYZ), Halifax (YHZ), Ottawa (YOW), and Montreal (YUL) on Air Canada and WestJet. There is also seasonal service on Delta through New York (JFK).

Where to stay: The Great George, Hotel on Pownal, The Delta, The Holman Grand

Where to eatSims Corner Steakhouse (local island beef and seafood), Gahan House (local beers –  try a Beach Chair Lager and steamed P.E.I. mussels), Richards Fresh Seafood (fish and chips), Merchant Man Pub, Terre Rouge (seafood chowder and local charcuterie), Lot 30 (poached covehead lobster and pork belly)

Top Attractions:

P.E.I. Culinary Adventures – Former chef turned entrepreneur Ross Munro provides a hands-on expert guide via land and sea to the best food and purveyors on the island. Go behind the scenes to meet the farmers, fishers, and artisan producers who have turned this island into a foodie paradise. Top it all off with a top-notch meal prepared by Chef Ross himself.

Green Gables Heritage Place – Keep your wife or girlfriend happy by visiting the home which inspired the classic tale, Anne of Green Gables. Not so much of a destination for men – but your lady will allow you to do whatever you want (golf, eating, drinking, etc.) after allowing her to indulge in the actual fairytale land of her favorite childhood setting.

P.E.I. National Park of Canada – Take in the red sand beauty of the island beaches on this boardwalk trail towards Greenwich Beach. The trail stretches less than a mile, traversing across Bowley Pond and surrounded by dunes, blue water, and local wildlife.

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Rent a Bike – All that food beckons for a bit of exercise. Fortunately the capital city, Charlottetown, boasts bike-friendly streets bustling with restaurants and bars. Rent a bike in town to get around like an islander. For some peace and quiet, cruise along confederation landing park on the waterfront. For more, check out Gulf Shore Parkway’s bike path towards scenic Covehead Harbour.

Golf – In addition to food, the island is known for its abundance of lush golf courses throughout the province. P.E.I. is often considered Canada’s top destination for the sport. Again, take your lady to Green Gables on the first day, and you’ll have free reign to play as much golf as you’d like!

Fishing – From 1000+ lb bluefin tuna to mackerel, haddock, and halibut, to fly fishing for brook and rainbow trout – the island boasts undisturbed salt and freshwater environments sure to entice any angler.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ook July 31, 2013 at 6:04 pm

I’ve been sort of wanting to go to P.E.I. to visit Green Gables (it’s my favorite book); I didn’t know they were famous for mussels. Great, now I have even more reason to go there.

2 Chris Mueller July 31, 2013 at 7:32 pm

I always see that advice on how to paralyze a lobster and end its suffering, and in my experience its nonsense. A lobster’s nervous system isn’t like ours, you can chop it straight down the length of it’s carapace and then go 90 degrees and cut behind its eyes almost all the way through and it will probably crawl around some. My advice is either learn to deal with the fact that you kill everything you eat barring salt, or freeze it into a more dormant/dead state.

3 Edgar July 31, 2013 at 8:04 pm

OMG that craw fish looks delicious!

and that lobster…. thanks for making my mouth watery.

4 William July 31, 2013 at 9:34 pm

I just visited PEI with my girlfriend; it’s nice to see a write-up on AoM so soon after! It really was a beautiful place, and the province is so small there’s really no place you can’t drive to within a couple of hours. We actually went on a ‘clam digging’ expedition where they gave us wet suits and we scoured a shallow sand bar collecting clams. They then showed us how to shuck them and we boiled them right there on the beach.

Honestly, it was a really beautiful place. The dirt and sand are a deep red from the ferrous soil, and the confederation trail was a great for a day’s bike ride. You can actually see mussel farms everywhere, and of course the seafood was delicious. I would definitely recommend it if you have the chance.

5 Tom August 1, 2013 at 6:12 am

P.E.I., and the rest of the Maritime provinces, are absolutely amazing for seafood, as one would expect. I live near Toronto, Ontario and in ’07 my dad, brother and I went out to the East coast for 2 weeks of camping in Nova Scotia and P.E.I., and it’s absolutely the best. I’m not a fan of oysters, but the freshly caught wild mussels the campground owners in Nova Scotia served to us were amazing, and even in some little buffet-style restaurant in P.E.I., the food was awesome. It’s so, so small of a place you really can see the whole island pretty quickly, and everywhere you go is full of beautiful ocean views (and the red sand is very cool to help) and landscapes. For anyone in Central-East Canada or the Northern States, it’s an amazing roadtrip and I absolutely recommend it. To those further, flying in may take away some of the journey, but being there is still so very worth it.

6 Tom August 1, 2013 at 6:15 am

Sorry for this extra comment, but I just remembered something else. In P.E.I.m for whatever reason, pop in glass bottles is still the norm. Doesn’t mean much, but if you particularly enjoy an ice cold Coke out of glass, it’s a good place to be.

7 Brian August 1, 2013 at 8:49 am

Check out Delvay by the Sea as another hotel destination. Located on the north shore of the island and within the national park. Its a 2 minute walk from the ocean and is so beautiful. On some summer nights you can actually see the Northern Lights… I was amazed.

The hotel is an old mansion and was the inspiration of some of the Anne of Green Gables story.

They also have wood cabins on the property to stay in if you are into that.

http://www.dalvaybythesea.com/

8 Big Bad Moose August 1, 2013 at 9:37 am

O, Canada… this is our California and Florida mashed (potato reference anyone?) into a lovely island. I’d give a lot to be there but alas, some day, mon amour, I’ll visit again – maybe even stay.

Regards,

BBM

9 virtual_zero August 1, 2013 at 10:00 am

Regular reader from PEI here… nice to see a post about home.

Another recommendation for places to eat are the various lobster suppers put on by church’s and communities. I’ve taken in over a hundred of them over the years and I’ve never walked away disappointed.

Also I strongly recommend any visitors take in some of the local music scene. I’ve lived all over and I’ve never come across a place where so many people can whip out a guitar or fiddle and entertain you for hours.

10 Steve August 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Boiling lobster is a TRAVESTY!!!!!!! Always, ALWAYS steam your lobsters!!!!! Please, everyone, do yourselves a favor and don’t ever boil a lobster – it is much more difficult to cook it properly this way and chance are extremely high that you’re going to overcook it! When you steam a lobster it is much more forgiving it terms of under/over cooking it and the meat stays more tender. I understand and love the concept of a “all in one” boil, but there’s a reason lobsters usually aren’t included in those types of meals. Do the boil as directly, but steam the lobsters on their own and then add them in to the pile of stuff you dump onto the table!

11 Cocktailsfor2 August 1, 2013 at 2:35 pm

PEI – home to SpectorsHockey.net – the hardest workin’ man covering the NHL around!

I’ve known Lyle for years, and keep threatening to visit him and his lovely wife up in PEI… this piece is just more impetus for me to plan it out…

12 Sam August 1, 2013 at 3:00 pm

A great piece on one of the world’s best kept secrets. Can’t wait to try the recipes! Thanks for the always solid advice, Matt!

13 Pita August 1, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Great video on how to shuck an oyster. I learned the hard way…and the wrong way…when I lived in Florida years ago. I have a few scars in my hand from when the knife slipped to show for it. Fortunately I had enough alcohol in my system already to deaden the pain so it hardly mattered (until the next day). I still love oysters, and the one in the video is perfect. If they’re all like that on PEI I’ll put that on my list of places to visit.

14 Brandon August 1, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Cool to see a post about home .

15 Ice Man August 1, 2013 at 7:01 pm

P.E.I. is probably one of the most picturesque areas in all of Canada. For those who want to escape the metropolises, or just to escape in general I can’t recommend it enough. The island’s summer industry is tourism, so they know how to do it and they do it right!!

16 Steve August 1, 2013 at 7:26 pm

You just made this Canadian living overseas a bit homesick. Haven’t been to this beautiful corner of the country, but I’ve wanted to for a long time.

Thanks for featuring it, Matt.

17 Jeff August 2, 2013 at 1:15 am

fwiw, a couple of lobster related tips. All of these I stole from my curmudgeon Cape Cod father in law.

Steam, rather than boil, the lobsters. This is a simple little nit, and we boil at home. But the bugs collect a lot of that boiling water and it makes a mess at table.

Mike’s got a wonderful two part pot, complete with a little spigot built into the bottom. The groceries go upstairs, the water downstairs, which turns into a nice liquor you can drain into mugs to go with your meal. He’ll toss in a handful of clams and mussels each per diner and skip most of the veggies apart from the corn. Hoping for the specialty gear this Christmas.

Some fishmongers who sell cooked lobster will also sell you knuckles, uncracked. Maybe’s it because I go in with Mike, but we get ‘em for $5 a pound. Take ‘em home, use a knife to (carefully) cut them open. 60% meat by weight is what I typically get. You can do the math, but it’s a steal of deal.

btw, the only thing more manly than eating a freshly self-shucked oyster on the water is downing the second of three that you just brought up with /tongs/ before your high school science teacher grabbed your wrist in total terror.

18 NS Daddy August 2, 2013 at 6:07 am

Great article! I live in Nova Scotia, and visit family on PEI several times per year. As a sea food junkie, I was born in the best part of the world!

The author forgot to mention how to get to PEI by car. There’s a large car ferry that sails several times per day between Pictou NS and PEI during the spring, summer, and fall.

Year-round is the Confederation Bridge between New Brunswick and PEI.

The ebst part is that you only pay the ferry toll/bridge toll when leaving PEI – it’s free on your way there.

(We usually take the ferry to PEI, drive the length of the island during the day, and take the bridge back in the evening)

19 Ross August 2, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I’m from Alberta, and I lived in PEI from 1993-99 for school. It’s a magic place, and I’m itching to go back.

20 mygocarp August 3, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Ah, it’s refreshing to see an article about home. It’s so rare to see anything written about PEI given how insignificant we are for just about anything else given how small we are (both population and size).

Makes me rather miss home for some mussels, too bad I’m on the pacific coast for the next while.

@Tom Sadly, in 2008 the provincial government repealed the ban on aluminum cans. Since then we’ve had to deal with aluminum cans and 2L bottles for all of our sodas. Not quite the same since they impart a metallic taste unlike glass bottles do.

21 Mike August 3, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Being born and raised in Prince Edward Island it bring much joy to see such a true article highlighting my stomping grounds.

Don’t forget to grab a Island Red Amber Ale at The Gahan House and check out some of the many talented local musicians! If your up for the task, take the plunge off of Stanely Bridge!

22 Josh Curley August 4, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Hello all,

This was a great article and I’m not just saying that because I’m from PEI! I have a few things to note however.

First, be aware that if you go to Lot 30 it wil be expensive. It’s a great restaurant but one of the priciest on the Island.

Secondly, Tom (in the comment section) glass bottles are not the norm on the Island anymore. In 2007 the Provincial government lifted restrictions on canned pop and plastic bottled pop on the Island. Unfortunately glass bottles are not common anymore.

I really enjoyed this article. I am living in Ottawa for a year and most people here know nothing about the Island. It’s nice to see that Americans are becoming familiar with my home.

Thanks for the article!

23 Kyle McDaniel August 6, 2013 at 6:37 am

we went to PEI for our honeymoon in 2005. We stayed at a great place called Dalvay by the Sea. I highly recommend it.

24 Wm Bonney August 12, 2013 at 10:50 pm

I lived for a few years in Nova Scotia and spent a lot of time on PEI. I agree with Steve that steaming lobsters is a much more satisfactory prep method than boiling them. (think steamed vegetables vs boiled) A couple NS fish-wives told me that they rubbed the underside of lobsters for about half a minute to “put ‘em to sleep” before placing them in the steamer. They claimed this resulted in instant death and that the meat was therefore had a better flavor. Do any of ya’ll know if they were pulling my leg? I have rubbed lobster bellies a few times and not noticed any real difference. The greatest sin is to overcook them. Overcooked they are only useful as an ingredient in that Louisana sausage corn vegetable crawfish stew described in the article. Unfortunately, the overcooking was my experience with the numerous church basement lobster feeds. Understandably a very difficult food-prep, but still disappointing.
IMHO the southern red sand beaches of PEI are more enjoyable than the northern tan and beaches because they are (were) uncrowded.

25 Al August 13, 2013 at 7:21 pm

As a Canadian living in Ontario, I’ve always wanted to make the trip to PEI. Such a gem of Canada so within reach! My American girlfriend (from Houston) is in LOVE with what Northern Ontario has to offer when she visits… I think she will DIE and go to heaven if she sees PEI :)

26 road king November 10, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Great article. PEI is a great motorcycle trip from home in the Adirondacks – a fully rounded experience from mountains to shore. Your instructional on oyster shucking is good and important – many a hand’s been sliced by amateurs using the quahog clam opening method. One note though – the muscles being cut are adductor muscles, not aBductor muscles. No one is being kidnapped in the shucking process.

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