When to eat oysters
Traditional wisdom holds that you should only eat oysters when there’s an “r” in the month, which is broadly true. Depending on where you live, the oyster breeding season starts in May/June and ends in August, during which their flesh becomes milky with a creamy texture that’s not to everyone’s liking.
Our Atlantic oysters are harvested off the north-west coast of Scotland, where the breeding season tends to start in June, so from then until September we let them get on with their natural cycle. But there’s nothing to stop you enjoying them now.
Why you should eat oysters
There are two simple reasons – taste and nutrition.
The flavour of oysters is best described as sweet, rich and clean – all they need to grow is unpolluted, often brackish shallow water. Oyster farming has almost no environmental impact, and the end product is consequently (and consistently) pure.
Besides the aforementioned high levels of zinc – around 50 times more than found in chicken – oysters are packed with vitamin B12 (key to smooth function of the brain and nervous system), copper, iron and iodine. They’re very low in fat and calories too, and high in protein.
How to eat oysters
Before you can bless your senses with the flavour and texture of oysters you need to learn how to open them, and for that job you will need a shucking knife (optional extra equipment includes a thick leather glove). There are lots of online videos where you can see how it’s done.
Thereafter it’s a question of whether you like them raw – drizzled with lemon juice and/or Tabasco and perhaps dusted with a little white pepper – or cooked.
In the UK almost all oysters are eaten raw, but not everyone appreciates raw shellfish (we know of one French woman who foolishly ate a bad one when nine months’ pregnant, thus bringing her daughter into the world slightly before nature intended). Have a look at the recipes at the foot of this article for ideas on how to cook oysters.
What to drink with oysters
If money is no object then high-end champagne is a no-brainer – the contrast of the smooth oyster flesh and lively bubbles is irresistible.
Oysters are often described as tasting minerally, and are perfectly complemented by wines with a similar cleanliness of flavour and mouthfeel, chablis being the number-one choice. If your budget won’t stretch that far then try muscadet, picpoul de pinet, pinot grigio or albariño.
If you’re up for a more adventurous (and less costly) match, give Guinness a go. It’s at the opposite end of the textural spectrum from champagne – smooth as opposed to fizzy – but visually and in terms of feel, the black stuff goes surprisingly well with oysters.