Oysters are a real treasure. Not only do some varieties produce pearls that get used in the finest pieces of jewellery, the edible varieties provide a delicious source of vitamins, Omega 3, Zinc and many other essential nutrients while packing almost no calories. And of course there is the delicious salty sea flavour that is truly unique to oysters. With the native oysters’ season in full bloom, here is our little guide to oysters.
How to choose your oysters
They are quite a lot of different types of oysters and they all have very different characteristics and flavors. The two major categories are native oysters and rock oysters. Native oysters have been farmed around the UK coastline for a long time. They take more time to grow and are therefore more expensive. They have nice round shaped shells. Rock oysters have been introduced in the UK to replenish the stocks that were becoming extremely low. Their shells are more elongated and look a bit rougher. While rock oysters are available throughout the whole year, native oysters are only available from September to April.
Oysters are very interesting in terms of taste because it varies a lot depending on where they come from. Their taste and texture is a reflection of their environment and depends a few factors, such as how saline the water is and which algae are available for the oysters to eat, for example. Tasting oysters from different terroirs (the makeup of their complete natural environment, including factors like location and climate) can therefore be an experience similar to tasting fine wines.
When buying oysters, you should always buy them alive which means that their shell must be shut tightly and the oyster should slightly react when tapped by shutting itself completely. They should also feel heavy, which indicates that their shell is full of water.
How to shuck oysters
You can eat oysters raw or cooked in a lot of different ways. Oysters can even be added to cocktails. If you bought your oysters to prepare them at home, the first thing you’ll need to do is to open them. To do so you will just need a kitchen towel, a shucker or any knife with a strong blade that won’t easily break.
Start by rinsing your oysters:
Use your kitchen towel to solidly grip oysters while protecting your hand. Hold the oysters with their back to your side and insert the knife in the oyster hinge:
Twist and slide the knife slightly from left to right to leverage the shell open. Once it has given in, slide your knife to the right of the oyster to cut the muscle that keeps it shut:
How to eat your oysters
Once fully open you need to check again that the oyster is okay to be eaten, especially if you’re going to have it raw. The oyster smell should be salty and slightly fishy but should not smell bad at all. The water inside the shell should be pure and transparent. Finally if you poke the oysters or put drops of lemon on it, it should shrink a bit.
You can then enjoy your oyster with just a few drops of lemon and vinegar, cocktail sauce or even tabasco. Or just chop some shallots, mix in white wine vinegar with a bit of sugar, salt and freshly ground white pepper. Leave the sauce in the fridge for a few hours for the aromas to blend nicely.