Oysters: You’ve got to Love ‘em!
By: J. Marlando
My wife and I went out to lunch at a Mexican restaurant a couple of days ago and I was surprised to see oysters on the menu—I love eating oysters so I ordered six on the half shell and they were great! I tried to get my wife to give them a try but she refused saying she couldn’t stand to even look at them. Well, let’s face it, oysters are not particularly beautiful…however, as is said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so for oyster lovers, as I am, they can be very appealing.
I have friends who will have oyster parties and they serve both raw and cooked oysters with tasty sparkling wines. I am a wine enthusiast too but I do not like sparkling beverages of any kind so I always sneak into their fridge and grab a beer. I am a beer and oyster guy through and through!
Anyway, I thought that I would share some of my thoughts on what has become quite a delicacy over the years since many of the wild beds have been reduced while the demand has risen creating the oyster farmer vital to the entire modern industry. In the light of all this, I hope you find the following fun, informative and…mouth-watering.
A Little Background
I was more like my wife for years—I thought that oysters were too slimy and ugly looking to ever eat. My parents ate oysters every now and then but I refused to even give them a try—ug, was my only boyhood response. Then, during my army days, I began my trek into the oyster eating world by slamming down oyster shooters with my buddies which is something I love doing to this day! (I’ll tell you how to make great shooters a little later). In any case, from “shooters” I slowly became the out and out oyster eating zealot I am today.
Some years ago I landed a great job and was sent to Thailand to work. Bangkok resembled all big city "human zoos” like Chicago, Denver, Hong Kong and so forth but once into the countryside the people and places are truly wonderful.
IMAGES OF CHANG MAI
My boss Chuck Keen, a veteran traveler, gave me a few warnings: beware of the pretty ladies, do not over tip and…don’t eat the oysters.
I couldn’t resist and so one morning I had oysters and eggs. I had no negative effects but I don’t suggest anyone breaking Chuck’s rule in any case….or should I say, just in case?
When we left Thailand we traveled to Australia and that was oyster heaven!
I stayed in Sydney for a while but my mainstay was in a small town by the name of Port Lincoln. I was treated with lots of oysters and abalone there and, in fact, I believe it was those Australian divers that changed me from being a now and then shellfish person to the over-indulgent shell-sucking maniac I am today. I’m exaggerating of course but with all attempts of humor aside, I truly do find oysters and most other shellfish irresistible. In fact, they are at the top of my menu of….treats.
Eating Oysters At Home
Leaving the folks who either don’t like oysters (or are afraid to try them) behind, we’ll address those who like oysters and want to serve them at home. There are few things more fun than to have a few friends over for an oyster fry on the “bar-be”. Oysters can be grilled, pan-fried, steamed or roasted. The truth, however, is that I don’t know much about cooking oysters—except for stew—because I like them raw. What I do know is that you can’t cook them for very long anyway—under a minute for sure. My rule!
What is probably most important is to buy your oysters at a reputable place—what you want is FRESH oysters and that means most favorably live ones. NEVER buy an oyster with its shell wide open—that oyster is apparently dead. And, in any case, you ought to eat your oysters the day you buy them even though you can keep them on ice or in the refrigerator for a couple of days if you have to.
When you are ready to prepare your oyster be sure and wash them well: You really need to scrub the shell under cold running water and I suggest with a stiff brush—I have a toothbrush for that very purpose. Also, inspect each individual oyster and toss out any shell that has been damaged or is open. (By damaged I mean cracked or broken).
This reminds me, you should have an oyster knifejust about any gourmet store should have a wide selection. (I often use a butter knife). Whatever you use to open the oysters, you will find a small hole in the closed shells so push your knife in there to start the opening process. Once your knife is injust follow the natural curve of the shell prying upward all the way. Just remember to be as gentle as possible because you do NOT want to lose any of the fluid inside. Once opened, take the top shell off, place the half containing the fluid and oyster on ice and unless you want to garnish with onions or something else, they’re ready to serve. You can’t get simpler or easier than that!
How many oysters should you serve per-oyster-eating person? Minimum six unless you’ve invited me and a dozen will do.
Incidentally, some folks serve their oysters with side dishes of lemon dip or Tabasco Sauce. Many restaurants offer a tangy Mignonette sauce but if you’re like me, I don’t want anything to add or take away from the oyster taste itself.
I also love oyster stew so let’s talk about that next.
Preparing Oyster Stew
Admittedly, I am no gourmet cook but if you want to take a shot at my recipe, here it is a serving for two—just double up for every two additional guests you invite:
1. Grab a saucepan
2. Toss in 2 tablespoons of butter.
(You will melt the butter first but here’s the rest of the stuff to have prepared)
3. Slice a nice size garlic clove razor thin. (I will sometimes sneak a little more in).
4. I add four or five shakes of white pepper
5 About eight shakes of salt
6 A tab more than a cup of milk
7 A little under a half cup of “half and half” cream.
6 Depending on the oyster size I will toss in between six and 12
7 I like tossing in a pinch or two of cayenne pepper
Here are the steps:
a. Melt the butter in a saucepan—keep the heat moderate
b. Dump in the garlic and other seasoning and stir into butter for four or five minutes.
c. Pour in the milk and the half and half.
Here’s the tricky part: Once you’ve poured in the milk you need to take your pan off the burner and pour the ingredients into the top of double boiler. Wait for the milk to get hot and toss in your shucked oysters.
When you see that first little bubble that says, I’m going to boil. Take the stew off the stove and serve. (You never want to boil your milk). You’ll probably learn to season your particular stew to your particular taste or find other recipes to test and try. Have fun!
While we’re talking about genius recipes, there is little more fun than serving Oyster Shooters for you and your guests. They are simple to make—toss a raw oyster in a double shot glass, pour in a teaspoon or so of cocktail sauce and you’re done. If you and your guests are “drinkers” add a splash or so of Vodka. Most people will want at least two!
So there you have it—the limited knowledge of my oyster experiences. If you have any great recipes or “oystering” advice I’d love to hear from you. In the meanwhile, I’m headed to the market for a couple dozen oysters and a fresh bottle of cocktail sauce. Yes, a couple of dozen shooters will do just fine!
There is an old saying that said to only buy oysters in the months with the letter “r.” These are the colder months like September and December into April. This was useful advice in days gone by because there was no refrigeration and oysters can spoil rapidly. However, most oysters spawn in the warmer weather months and during this time they lose their delicious taste. And yes, I am well aware that some oyster farmers raise sterile oysters so they can make them available in the markets year around.
Now then, most non-oyster eaters as well as oyster eaters have heard that eating oysters serve as a natural aphrodisiac. The question is…is it…or not?
The myth (if it is a myth) probably began with the tale of Casanova who was said to have eaten 50 oysters a day to keep his spirits up. It is thought that the zinc or iron content might be an enricher of testosterone but, as far as I know, science has not validated the “myth” either way. Nevertheless, there are enough people, world around, to validate the oyster’s ability to excite the libido and, what the heck, that’s good enough for me.
Pregnant ladies should not eat oysters just to stay on the safe side. Oysters can carry certain toxins and so forth.
As everyone knows oysters manufacture pearls. A tiny piece of shell or sand can get trapped inside the oyster and the oyster’s natural ability to avoid infection is to secrete a nacreous liquid around the particle that eventually forms the pearl. Beautiful pearls are a natural wonder of Nature.