Tis the season to . . . be fit, apparently.
The Taster has never been terribly moved by the idea of effortful dieting and activity in the depths of midwinter, but there are perhaps a few areas in which his mindset overlaps with that of the Fit Brigade. One thing we can all agree on is oysters, which are at their seasonal best around now. Low in fat, high in nutrients (especially zinc, iron and Vitamin B12) and you can feel them doing you good.
Raw Oyster Recipes
Purists eat oysters with nothing but shallot vinegar (mignonette), lemon juice or the oyster’s own juice. Some people (Americans) like tabasco sauce. The etiquette is, having dressed the oyster, not to use cutlery but to pick up the shell with your fingertips and tip the contents into your mouth. Chew or swallow, as you prefer; there is no wrong or right. It’s virtually impossible to choke on an oyster since they resemble something only a little more substantial than a gulp of seawater. They taste primarily of salt, ozone, and sea-rocks; close your eyes and you’re at the beach.
In the 1930s, Edouard de Pomiane (a French food writer, cook, and radio broadcaster) recommended the following dish (popular in Bordeaux, apparently):
Fry some small link sausages. Serve them very hot on one platter, and on a second platter serve a dozen freshly opened oysters.
Alternate sensations: 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 reprint available from MacMillan)
Cooked Oyster Recipes
If you prefer to have your oysters cooked, try these:
Grilled oysters: Take some fresh oysters (or mussels or scallops) on the half-shell and top them with any or all of butter, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, chilli, lemon, or cayenne pepper. Grill until the butter is melted and all is hot
Angels on Horseback (canapés): wrap oysters in streaky bacon and grill for two minutes
Oyster stuffing: If you feel adventurous — stuff a chicken with oysters, then roast As Is. Apparently this works. Alternatively, search for “oyster stuffing chicken” online — plenty of recipes come up
Oysters Rockefeller: I would love to be able to tell you how to prepare this mythical New Orleans dish, but no-one knows exactly how it is done. However, experiment with capers, olive oil and parsley, and you may create something similar. Or search online again — there are a multitude of recipes, some involving spinach, watercress etc; so find one to suit you
Spare A Thought
Finally, a thought upon the creature who has given us so much pleasure. The late, very great, Douglas Adams chose an oyster (among other entities) to personify a hapless being known as Agrajag. Agrajag was repeatedly killed, consumed or otherwise done away with by Arthur Dent, the hero of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. We may like to reflect upon Adams’s interpretation of the oyster-eating experience. Arthur has just tried to teleport to safety, but has been diverted into a dark and fearful cave, through which he is stumbling when an unknown voice accuses him of serial murder.
“Here’s the moment, Dent,” shrieked the voice, now reaching a feverish pitch of hatred, “here’s the moment when at last I knew!”
It was indescribably hideous, the thing that suddenly opened up in front of Arthur, making him gasp and gargle with horror, but here’s an attempt at a description of how hideous it was. It was a huge palpitating wet cave with a vast, slimy, rough, whale-like creature rolling around it and sliding over monstrous white tombstones. High above the cave rose a vast promontory in which could be seen the dark recesses of two further fearful caves, which
. . .
Arthur Dent suddenly realized that he was looking at his own mouth, when his attention was meant to be directed at the live oyster that was being tipped helplessly into it.
He staggered back with a cry and averted his eyes.
(Life, The Universe And Everything; 2009 reprint available from PanMacmillan. I’m pleased to say my own slightly foxed copy is a 1982 Pan Original.)
For more about oysters and oyster recipes, try this THIS excellent blog. It includes a recipe for mignonette (although personally I prefer red wine vinegar to white).