Frozen gourmet pearls

Shuckin’ is out, as CSI Seafood introduces its Jemco half shell frozen oysters

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By  Sarah Campbell Published  July 3, 2005

|~|Jemco-L.jpg|~|Jemco Oysters are making an appearance on menus across the region.|~|The Arabian Gulf may be renowned the world over for its rich supply of seafood. However, when it comes to oysters, a new company is making inroads into supplying the hotel industry in the region. New Zealand-based CSI Seafood Ltd made its regional debut at Gulfood earlier this year. The company, which works with local partner Country Hill, introduced the Jemco frozen half shell oysters at the show. Farmed and frozen in New Zealand, the Jemco oysters are specially produced to be defrosted and eaten raw, providing a safer and more cost effective alternative to fresh products. “We may have the world’s cleanest waters and most stringent testing systems, but with live oysters there is always an increased risk, even with ours from New Zealand,” claims Ian Langridge, director, CSI Seafood Ltd. “With frozen, tests can be done and completed well before the product will ever reach a consumer in Dubai. We not only test the growing waters, product, and factory, but for every batch we also do human testing with our fresh/live sales within New Zealand. Frozen is the only style that gives you the time needed to complete all tests and ensure the customer is receiving the safest possible product,” Langridge explains. The Jemco oysters are pacific oysters, called Crassostrea gigas. This species is not native to New Zealand; rather it was first introduced from Japan in the 1950s. The spat, or seed, collected for Jemco oysters is sourced from wild natural spat, during the summer months of January to March. Placing bundles of spat sticks in areas where the spat will naturally congregate collects the spat. The bundles of spat sticks are then distributed to Jemco farms and nailed out individually on inter-tidal growing racks for approximately 12 to 18 months before harvesting. Once harvested, the oysters are transferred to the Jemco factory for freezing. “The oyster meat is delicate and can be damaged if the freezing system is severe. For example, cryogenic and nitrogen is fantastic for freezing , say, lobster, which has complete shell protection, but disastrous for a half shell oysters. So we use air blast; as the product is frozen on trays this is the ideal medium of quick freezing and retaining the natural taste and texture,” Langridge says. Once frozen, the product is ready for dispatch. Jemco sea freights its oysters from New Zealand to the UAE, a trip that takes approximately 30 days. Products exported to the UAE get a shelf life of eight months guaranteed. “We take every precaution to ensure the product arrives in optimum condition. For example, we load our own temperature data loggers into the container to ensure the cool chain as been maintained. Country Hill then clears the container and takes the product immediately to its new temperature controlled distribution facility, and then distributes the same as with any frozen product. “By supplying frozen we are able to deliver a product that is in optimum condition and does not endure the risks associated with exporting live/fresh seafood by air. Airfreight is quick, but anyone experienced with the systems will confirm that consistent temperature control is impossible to maintain,” Langridge says. But what do chefs make of the product, and do they prefer frozen oysters over fresh? “No chef, when tasting, has ever realised the oysters had been frozen. We did this at Gulfood food and not once did anyone realise the oysters had been frozen. Most chefs are honestly surprised,” says Langridge. And what about preparation? “There is a lot of difference in preparing fresh to frozen. With fresh, they are still alive and to maintain the freshness you need to use them quickly. Frozen, on the other hand, is a convenient way for smaller outlets without fridge space to use oysters. You just pull the amount out that you need a day before, keep them refrigerated with a damp cover and you can keep them like that for two days,” remarks chef Chris von Landkammer, executive chef, Rydges Plaza Dubai, who uses Jemco Oysters. “I don’t mind which I use, just as long as the oyster is of good quality. If you have a big function that requires oysters, frozen are so convenient. For small functions that require oysters, I like to have them opened fresh,” he adds. Already, the product has been received favourably by hotels and catering establishments in the UAE. “They have been used by Mina A’Salam at Madinat Jumeirah, Shangri-la Hotel Dubai, and are currently on trial with the Grand Hyatt and Hilton, and [Country Hill] have had discussions with Emirate Airlines,” Langridge reveals. He is confident that it is only a matter of time before more hotels come onboard with Jemco and Country Hill. “The growing hospitality sector in Dubai, combined with a lack of local live oysters and an increasing concern for food safety, means that in our opinion this is the perfect product for this market. It is early days, but we are very excited about the market’s potential,” Langridge concludes.||**||

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