Jemmy them from their shell, says Robin Alway and indulge in a sensory experience made for two…
Oysters are the best known aphrodisiac. But although their high levels of zinc reputedly gets lovers in the mood, it doesn’t work for this bivalve mollusc at all. They’re hermaphrodites, liable to change sex from year to year, and in fact two of the three varieties cultivated in the UK refuse to reproduce naturally off our coast. Too cold apparently.
The native oyster can get it on in British waters. They’re smaller and rounder, take longer to grow and are usually considered to have the best taste – sweet and clean with a briny tang – but are expensive. Rock oysters were imported in the 19th century to boost dwindling stocks and are bigger and more robust, their ridged shells even trickier to prise open. The Pacific oyster is the most recent introduction and the biggest of all. Due to their size they are generally cooked or used in oyster sauce in their native Asia.
So when should you eat them? The rule used to be only in the months with a letter ‘r’ which is based on the native oyster’s breeding season from May to August when it spawns and the flesh takes on a milky texture. However rock oysters don’t spawn over here and are available all year round.
Most oysters are eaten raw and alive. If you’re buying them to indulge in at home, preferably with a loved one, make sure they are tightly closed and feel heavy. They are graded by size from 1 – the biggest to 4 – the smallest, with size 2 probably the best value according to connoisseurs. They certainly don’t give up their seductive, glistening goodness easily as any novices in the difficult business of shucking them will confirm.
Once open, you can throw away the top shell, pick out any fragments but leave any seawater in the bottom shell. After a final cut to free the oyster, it’s then ready to be tipped into a waiting mouth (or kept in the fridge for half an hour is that’s not practical.) Just add lemon juice, Tabasco or a shallot vinegar.
Of course, some people are happy for them to stay in their tightly clamped shells and if the thought of eating them raw is a passion killer, it’s worth trying a recipe to release their unique flavours, like this one from Samway’s Mark Machin. For those who love them though, that could be considered sacrilege.
Deep Fried Poole Bay Oysters By Mark Machin of Samways
“The jury on aphrodisiacs may still be out, but oysters are still number one choice for Valen-
tine’s night” says Mark Machin from Samways (www.samwaysfish.com). “If you or your loved one are not keen on knocking back the succulent oyster from the shell, then here is a recipe that any Brit can associate with.
Battered and deep fried, oysters take on a completely different texture and release some very different flavour patterns. The light sauce to accompany the dish will help retain the essence of the sea that every oyster aficionado adores whilst enjoying this different preparation.”
4 Dorset oysters shucked (save the liquid from the oysters)
2 medium carrots, peeled
2 spring onions, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons of cider vinegar
20g unsalted butter
60g self raising flour
Chilled sparkling cider
Ground nut oil for frying
Pinch of salt
2 pinches of sugar
100ml full fat milk
20g corn flour
1. Place the oysters on kitchen paper to absorb some moisture.
2. Slice the peeled carrots on a mandolin lengthwise. They should be thin enough to bend in a circle.
3. Season the carrots lightly with salt, sugar and the cider vinegar.
4. Strain the oyster liquid through a tea sieve and add twice the volume of milk. So if you have 50g of oyster liquid, add 100g milk. Check to taste that this sauce is not too salty, if it is add a little more milk.
5. Warm the milky liquid in a small pan and add the knob of butter. Keep warm.
6. To make the batter, mix the corn flour, self raising flour and salt with the sparkling cider to a thick batter.
7. Heat the ground nut oil to 170°C.
8. Dip the oysters in the batter and fry for 2-3 minutes until crispy.
9. Whisk the oyster sauce together and serve the battered oysters on the marinated carrots with the warm sauce.