Whether you regard them as food of the gods or spawn of the devil, oysters are a unique culinary experience. After the dry period between May-August, native oysters come into season and festivals honour this highly-regarded mollusc, once dismissed as simple peasant fare.
During the months of September and October, people rejoice the return of oysters to our diets, but they have a chequered history – the Romans regarded them as food for the favoured few, but they fell out of favour, enjoying a revival around the eighth century before becoming the staple of fishermen and peasants, and a means of sustenance for the Victorian lower classes. Now, after decades of over-fishing, the oyster is once again seen as a (pricey) delicacy.
Although native oysters can be found throughout the year, they're best avoided in the summer between May-August – not only do they taste milky and fatty, they're more likely to spoil, and it's ethically unsound to consume them. There's a saying that the best time to eat them is when there's an 'R' in the month (the colder months of September to April), but this, though built on some truth, is a myth.
These unattractive bivalve molluscs have, conversely, been a symbol of love for centuries – the Greek goodess of love, Aphrodite, was 'born' from an oyster shell and serial seducer Casanova claimed to eat 50 a day. The oyster's well-known reputation as an aphrodisiac is easily explained in modern times – they're brimming with minerals essential to healthy fertility, such as zinc, calcium, iron, selenium and magnesium. And at only 110kcals per dozen, they won't challenge your waistline.
Oysters should be stored in the cold (they keep for 2-3 days), though not in water, and should smell fresh, be tightly-closed and wet inside when opened (we recommend you ask your fishmonger to open them for you, but if you want to do it yourself, you'll need an oyster knife and a firm, steady hand). If they're open, don't eat them: food poisoning from an oyster is not something you would wish on your worst enemy. Once shucked (opened), eat quickly. Shucked oysters can also be frozen.
British and Irish oysters are fantastic, especially those from the East Anglian coast (around Aldeburgh), Whitstable in Kent, and, in Ireland, Helford and Galway. Native oysters are regarded as the best – and the most expensive. Pacific or rock oysters offer smaller portions with a more subtle taste.
It's a briny, bracing experience to knock back an oyster doused in lemon juice, shallot vinegar, and a dash of Tabasco, although this certainly doesn't appeal to everyone. For the brave, chew to release their meaty, salty flavour.
- Angels on horseback – oysters wrapped in bacon and baked
- Oysters Kilpatrick – oysters with diced bacon and Worcestershire sauce
- Oysters Rockefeller – oysters with spinach and breadcrumbs, grilled
- Po' Boys – an oyster sandwich from the American South
delicious. oyster recipes