It’s all in the timing: native oysters are best from October to March, peaking mid-season, around Christmas. They are just fine on Valentine’s Day, with their reputation as an aphrodisiac, and the fingering and handling needed to consume them, making them an especially exciting ingredient (asparagus in butter being the second contender).
Rock oysters are available all year round, but they’re perhaps not quite as tasty.
At home — If you want to eat your own oysters at home, ordering online is probably your best bet. Try The Cornish Fishmonger. You can also order a rather nice Gift Oyster Hamper from Ramus Seafood Emporium.
Eating out — If you’re eating out, The Taster highly recommends Loch Fyne, which currently has 41 branches across the UK and sources all its seafood responsibly.
In London — Oh lucky you — you can now walk in & buy fully sustainable oysters for £1.50 each at Whole Foods Market in Kensington, Piccadilly, Fulham and Richmond. They just recently (February 2016) started shipping oysters certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and are the first British grocery to stock MSC oysters. You can take the shellfish home closed, or have them shucked open for you in the shop.
CHEW OR SWALLLOW?
This is only to do with raw oysters. Cooked ones, you may approach with a knife and fork in the normal way. Debretts advises chewing, which The Taster also commends. Swallowing is allowed – it’s not a faux pas – it’s just that you miss out on a lot of the oyster flavour, if you do. You may consider this a good thing; the choice is yours.
One thing is certain. The oyster must be completely detached from its shell before any attempt at consumption. Use the oyster fork to tease the little blob from its moorings, anoint with the condiments of your choice, and — in one smooth movement — lift, tip, and allow the oyster and all its juices to slide into your mouth. Then, do as you will.
NB Do not use the oyster fork (or anything else) to spear the oyster as if it were a sausage, and lift it, dripping and tearing, to one’s mouth. You may enjoy it, but it is an unnecessarily horrible scene for your fellow diners and also for the oyster.
§ AU NATUREL
Purists eat their oysters with nothing but shallot vinegar, tabasco, or the oyster’s own juices. If you wish to boldly go where no gourmand has gone before (almost), grate fresh wasabi on — the clash of tastes is said to be extraordinary. You can get fresh British wasabi (no airmiles) at The Wasabi Co
§ ANGELS ON HORSEBACK
Wrap oysters in streaky bacon and grill for two minutes (for Devils, use prunes)
§ GRILLED & FRIED
Top oysters with butter, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, chilli, lemon, cayenne etc. Then grill them in their shells. To fry them like they do in the US Southern states, roll in breadcrumbs or thin batter and dip for a few seconds in hot oil. Serve with lemon slices or tartare sauce
Oyster Rockefeller is a mythical New Orleans dish made with capers, olive oil and parsley. Nobody knows exactly how — but it definitely sounds worth a try (see the video link, lower down)
§ WITH SMALL HOT FRIED SAUSAGES
In 1930, Edouard de Pomiane instructed readers: ‘Burn your mouth with a hot, crunchy sausage, then soothe your burns with a cool, smooth oyster. Continue in this way until you have finished off both the sausages and the oysters. Cold white wine, of course.’ (French Cooking in Ten Minutes, 1977 translation. Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
For 25 years, former butler Richard J. Smith advised celebrities, politicians & royalty on wine. He now runs the wineschoolofcheshire.com and writes for The Taster (adding a bit of class to the whole enterprise, we’re sure)
“Oysters for indulgence — why not. For this, it has to be a quality fizz — in my opinion, nothing beats the sparkling Ridgeview wines of East Sussex (Buckingham Palace recently treated the Chinese President Xi to a Ridgeview Blanc de Blancs). Try the Marksman Blanc de Blancs: 100% Chardonnay grapes, with a hint of brioche on the palate. A beautifully balanced wine with a long-lasting finish.”
Try this version of Oysters Rockefeller, by Chef John:
For more informative, or amusing, vids, try our YouTube channel.
The mythology surrounding oysters is immense. Louis XI of France made his professors eat them to keep their wits sharp. Casanova is said to have slurped 50 off his mistress’s breasts every day for breakfast, the filthy old beast. Even the dour Victorians were entranced by the Famous Whistling Oyster of Drury Lane, which sang on a pub bar and was mentioned in Punch. It’s an impressive roll call for such an inert little bivalve.
FAREWELL & GOOD LUCK!
We hope the above ideas might provide some inspiration. We do update entries, so check back any time. Click HERE for more ingredients.
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