Consider the Oyster
Posted by Degan on September 15th, 2011
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
~Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
I’ve been eating a lot of oysters this year. There is a niggling little concern in the back of my head that you’re only supposed to eat oysters in months ending in ‘R’ but maybe that’s regional or an old wives’ tale. It’s on my list to find out but I am working on a proper post (as well as an Urban Dig tour) and these are snippets and images for you to enjoy.
This Chefs on Sundays post captures all that is fresh and wild about oysters for me, as well as being visually stimulating. Oysters come in a variety of sizes but they all have the characteristic of being washed by the sea. Shucked properly you get the fresh briny meat, a bit of salty nectar and maybe a bit of sting from spicy, tangy or citrus condiments. It’s possible to cook them, of course, but I think that’s really missing the point.
The guardian tells “All you need to know about oysters” (including that you’re not supposed to eat them in the summer) and gives this good (if not obvious) criteria for rating:
“The key to a good oyster is freshness. It should smell of the seashore as the tide recedes over seaweed-covered rocks. It should be full in the shell, firm in texture, and brimming with the natural juice that is its life blood (not just sea water); every spare drop of this should be soaked up with bread. The heel of the oyster, in the deep part of the shell, should be a creamy or ivory colour. The frill should be moist and pulsating, and the oyster should always look bright. Finally, if the shell isn’t firmly closed it should do so immediately when tapped.”
To eat a raw oyster, first dress it with whatever condiments you choose. Typically you will have a Tabasco or horseradish sauce, some lemon wedges and a shallot mignonette or some variant but it can also get fancy – YEW bar’s latest is to serve their oysters with creme fraiche and mignonette boules. Then make sure it’s not still attached to the shell by moving it with a fork or a finger, tip it into your mouth and slurp! Chewing seems to be a matter of personal preference. You will definitely get more flavour by chewing it but you’ll also get all the texture and I understand this can be an issue for people. If you don’t like to chew your oysters, you should probably stick to small or medium sized ones. Finally, pick a nice bubbly to wash them down with (although a glass of beer works nicely too).
My most favorite oyster memories have happened at Ferris’ Oyster Bar in Victoria where I have stacked up many, many shells, but we’re lucky to have a lot of good joints in Vancouver too so I’ll be publishing those soon.
Another link from Guardian offers instruction on how to shuck an oyster. This is something I’ve been wanting to learn how to do FOREVAH and I was about to bring home a bag and just start practicing when Brenda – straight from Butchers of Gastown: Sea Creatures – kindly showed me how.
Basically you take your oyster knife and a couple of lint-free bar towels. Lay one flat on the table and holding the oyster with the flattest part on top, wrap a second one around the oyster. Insert the knife point into the shell and wiggle it until you have it in far enough to use as a lever to pop the top off. Be careful not to spill the juice. Then take the knife and cut under the oyster meat to separate if from the shell. Serve on ice.
More oyster intel coming soon. What are your favorites?