Image credit: CC BY 2.0 (Charlotta Wasteson, 2011)
Oysters — there aren’t many foods which inspire such a passionate debate, on both sides. Some worship them, others loathe them. But they are undeniably a star feature on restaurant menus, and even poets acknowledge that “eating oysters is like kissing the sea on the lips”.
Fan or not, it does help to have some knowledge of this unique shellfish, particularly if you enjoy gastronomic experiences. Well, at the very least you ought to know that the aphrodisiac quality of oysters has been scientifically proven and that the legendary lover Casanova ingested 50 every breakfast, and dozens more at other meals.
If you haven’t clamped up by now, read on for some practicalities when it comes to enjoying your oysters!
Even though the oyster world seems a bit overwhelming as a result of so many appellations (just as wines), there are actually only five oyster species you need to know and they are: the Eastern Oyster, also known as Gulf, Atlantic or American oyster; European Flat Oyster, also called Belon; Kumamoto Oyster; Pacific Oyster; and Olympia Oyster.
Keep in mind that the oyster’s taste is affected by the water they grow in. If you select your oysters by country, you will observe a slight difference in their taste and texture. For instance, French oysters are kept naturally, following the tide, so they have a juicy texture and a balance of meaty flesh. On the other hand, Canadian oysters are grown in deep sea water, which adds to the oysters’ creaminess and flavour.
For those passionate for a stronger flavour, U.S. oysters are rich in zinc, pleasantly salty and meaty. Moving on to the Irish lands, the oysters there have a rather smooth soy and metallic finish, and they are best served au naturel. However, the Irish have sworn that washing down the oyster with a dry stout is a match-made in heaven.
We often find it a mystery or an art to shuck oysters. Even so, practice makes perfect and with the right kind of knife, a learned method and a bit of stolen art, we no longer dare cry “shucks, this is going to be tricky!” Instead, we brace ourselves with strength, a small oyster knife and a tea towel.
So, here’s what you should do to cut-open your fresh oysters: hold the oyster firmly on the table, the flatter side facing upwards, work the knife into the hinge, twist and lever it open. The trick is to cut the muscle that’s keeping the lid on, by peering under the shell to find it. The result will reveal a beautiful fleshy briny oyster displayed on a pearly shell.
Common lore says that you should eat oysters only in months with the letter “R”, and the argument is that the red tide often occurs during summer months. However, the red tide levels are highly monitored these days and many oysters are farmed instead of harvested from the wild. Even so, do check if the oyster is fresh by looking at a firm texture which overflows with the natural juice.
Also, keep in mind that the bivalve comes in size one to three, and the bigger the more costly. In terms of age, the small oysters require approximately three to six months to grow, whereas the bigger ones can grow a year, up to five years.
Although eaten raw, do not fret, as experts state that it is extremely rare to have a “bad” oyster, as fisheries have to purify them in clean water for 48 hours. And, if happen to be on holiday and see locals plucking them off the riverbed, proceed with caution as there is a chance that harmful bacteria resides on them.
Roar, not raw
We thought that the right way to make the best of an oyster was to devour it raw. At least, that is what purists swear by. In case you should want to experiment, know that it is just as awesome to grill, roast, stir-fry or steam the oysters.
Suhardi Huang, general manager of Gourmet Plus, a restaurant company in Singapore, proved cooked oysters are a superb idea at this year’s Savour 2014. With a few hot and cold ingredients and some nifty moves, the chef enamoured the audience first with his steamed oysters served with daikon oroshi (grated radish), chili and spring onion followed by a tempura version with wasabi mayo.
To grow to love them more, oysters require time and practice, as the process is often compared to that of wine tasting. To reach oyster bliss, take baby steps, smell them and feel transported to the sea, slurp the meat with its “liquor” and take in the brine. It is better to chew a few times before swallowing.
Discover if you are more of a subtle or bold type, and if the buttery or sweetness flavour appeals to you. If oysters haven’t wowed you already, then try pairing them with a nice Sauvignon Blanc. A Pinot Grigio wine also goes well, especially with the Pacific oysters, and let’s be serious, you can never go wrong with champagne!