The Bluff oyster – this delectable thing with its craggy, rock hard shell and sweet, salty and soft interior is now in season. Food for the heart (7 calories, loads of iodine and zinc), food for the loins also if you get my drift. Oysters have a hugely respectable pedigree – Roman emperors ate hundreds of them at one sitting, Casanova slurped down 50 a day in his bath, gourmets wait all year for the first month the oysters come out which in NZ is March. Viagra is an unheard of drug for oyster eaters although I’m sorry to say there is absolutely no proof of that.
How should raw oysters be eaten? Nothing, but nothing, tastes like an oyster opened fresh from the sea – briny, clean and juicy. Eat them on their own or with a squeeze of lemon or with a sauce of red wine vinegar and finely chopped shallots, accompanied by buttered wholegrain bread like Vogel’s or brown soda bread or dark sourdough. If you can’t bear the thought of eating oysters raw, start by having them very gently cooked where they are really just warmed e.g. a bit of Champagne on the oyster in its shell topped with a bit of cream and tabasco and very quickly grilled. Or deep fried briefly in a tempura batter. Throw a steak on the barbie then top it with oysters – this makes an inspired match.
How should an oyster taste? The consistency should be meaty, juicy and not too fatty. The taste should be sweet, briny, fresh and clean. Freshly shucked oysters will smell like the sea - slightly metallic – and the liquor will be clear.
Oysters have flourished in NZ’s coastal waters for millions of years. We have the world’s safest growing waters - no pollution, no algal bio toxins, no chemicals, no depuration (treatment to reduce bacteria) and no genetic alteration. Prime eating period is in autumn and winter and we seem to like them fat and white in NZ. If you buy them unopened they will last for up to a week in the fridge covered with a damp cloth. Store live oysters cup side down (flat side up) to keep them in their own liquor and covered with a damp towel. Live oysters need to breathe so never store them in an airtight container and never cover them in fresh water. Store fresh, shucked oysters on ice or in the coldest part of the refrigerator and use them within three or so days of purchase.