Nervous About Oysters? Here’s How To Enjoy Them

Oysters are up there with caviar, champagne, and truffles as one of the world’s ultimate luxury foods. They don’t look overly appealing from the outside, with the rough and grey shells, but the flesh of the bivalved molluscs is deliciously succulent and delicate flavoured and can vary in colour from pale grey to beige.

However, trying oysters for the first time can be daunting for a newcomer. Maybe it’s the idea of eating them directly from their shell or a general nervousness about eating fiddle shellfish. But there are other ways to eat these delicious molluscs.

In Britain, we can usually find two types of oysters: Natives grown in Whitstable, Colchester and Helford, or less expensive Pacific, also known as Rock of Gigas, which have a larger, longer shell. In Ireland, the best oysters come from Galway.

Native oysters are said to have a superior taste, but they are more expensive than Rock oysters and are usually eaten as simply as possible to preserve the complex, slightly metallic taste.

Rock oysters have a sweeter, salty, flavour. Their larger size, and the fact that they’re less of a strain on the wallet, means they’re good for cooking with, as well as eating raw.

There is a general rule of thumb in the northern hemisphere that oysters should only be eaten in months that contain an ‘R’, so eat oysters from September to April.

Live, just opened, or ‘shucked’ oysters have the best flavour. But if you’re nervous about shucking them yourself, you can ask your fishmonger to do it for you, although it means you need to eat them as soon as possible after that.

How to prepare oysters

Scrub the live oyster shells under cold tuning water, discarding any that are cracked or damaged. Any shells that aren’t tightly closed, or whose open shells do not snap shut when tapped should also be thrown away, as the oyster inside is dead.

To open or shuck an oyster, wrap a tea towel around your hand to protect it, and grip the oyster with the same hand, with the cupped shell in the palm of your hand, and the hinge part facing you.

Insert a shucking knife (or a short knife with a sharp strong blade) into the small gap in the hinge, and twist from side to side until the hinge breaks. Lever open the top half of the shell and run the knife gently along the inner edges of the shell to free the oyster from the top half of the shell. You can then discard the top shell.

Using the knife, gently free the oyster from the muscle that binds it to the deep shell, to leave the oyster sitting in its juices. Pick out any fragments of the broken shell with the tip of the knife, but try not to spill any of the juice.

How to store oysters

Cover live oysters with a damp tea towel and put them in the fridge with the larger side down. They will keep up to three days, but the sooner you eat them, the better they’ll taste. Shucked oysters should be kept covered in the fridge, and eaten on the same day as purchase.

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