I know, I know, sorry. But, hey there is an “r” in the month and, love them or hate them, the oyster season has started and I can’t help but get a bit giddy. I am a big oyster fan, so I thought I would dedicate this short piece to the briny, slimy, tasty and expensive joys of new season oysters.
So, in the best tradition of food blogging – here are 6 things you may or may not know about oysters (“pearls” of wisdom, you may say):-
There are only 5 main types of Oyster, but there are 100s of varieties and their shell, shape and flavour change mostly according to the very specific area and type of water they inhabit. Oysters are always “local”. If you are in the UK, go for Native if you can, rather than Rock (but both are good).
Most types of Oyster (apart from deep sea ones) don’t make pearls. I know, bugger isn’t it?
I am an “ostreaphile” – an oyster lover. Get me.
From Roman times, oysters were the food of the poor – they were plentiful and cheap, and often used to bulk out more expensive ingredients such as meat. They were frequently added to pies, soups and stews to make them go further. Supplies decreased in the 20th Century and that is way you pay through the nose for them now.
Generally speaking, oysters are best eaten when there is an “r” in the month because the waters are cooler and the oysters have finished spawning. You can eat them in the summer, but often they are weak and milky as they are expending all their energy creating new oysters. Eat them when they’re done, and they are firm, juicy and cold.
If the oyster doesn’t make you ill (they filter all sorts of bacteria that grow in estuaries and other places oysters love to live, some of it can make you very sick, and most of the time there is very little way of knowing before you eat it, so always use a reputable supplier) then they are great for your health being very high in zinc and minerals – good for your spots and your immune system (and your sex drive, of course).
Go steady if it is your first time, as there is such a thing as an Oyster Hangover. Believe me.
Opening oysters is called “Shucking” and is an art I haven’t yet mastered. In theory, you need your stubby oyster knife and a couple of tea-towels or a mesh glove. You force the knife into the shell hinge and sever the muscles that keep it closed, then turn it over and open the two halves up. Simple.
I have also heard that a couple of minutes in the microwave beforehand can make the task easier – never seen it done though.
Dressed or Undressed?
Whatever you decide, do it with confidence. I can’t be bothered with people fannying around with their oysters. Make a decision and stick with it. Mostly I prefer my oysters undressed and raw, perhaps a little lemon juice, maybe a drop of Tabasco (although rarely) and sometimes some finely chopped shallots in vinegar. But mostly, the sea water alone does the trick for me.
Swallow or Chew?
So, how do you eat yours? Chew them or swallow them whole? Most people new to oysters, in my experience, pour the entire lot down their throats as quickly as possible to get the whole nasty experience over with. Bit of waste, frankly. Most connoisseurs say you should chew once or twice before swallowing. I pour the whole oyster in my mouth directly from the shell and then squash it against the roof of my mouth with my tongue, sometimes I give it a delicate chew, but mostly a squeeze then a swallow. Works for most things in life.
Enjoy the new Season.
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