Following our interview
with the CEO of Oyster Meister, CellarVie Wines
explains the art and occasional danger of shucking oysters with a little help from the man himself: -
When purchasing oysters at the market, it’s incredibly important you make sure they are fresh. Whilst they are regularly championed as a powerful aphrodisiac, the effects of eating bad or contaminated oysters, while increasingly rare, is not pretty. People won’t forget being poisoned in a hurry, so err on the side of caution by following these simple steps: -
• Avoid any open oysters where possible, but if this is unavoidable, an oyster should snap shut on contact. A live oyster uses its muscle to hold the shell tightly closed; if they don’t close immediately, give them a wide berth or face the unpleasant consequences. • An oyster should feel weighty in your hand; the heaviness suggests they are freshly harvested from the sea. When removed from water they tend to lose moisture, so the lighter they are the longer the oyster has been out of the sea.
• Fresh oysters tend to smell sweet and briny like the sea.
Oyster Meister says: The top types of edible oysters are what we call the native oyster. The other one is the rock oyster, which is also known as a pacific oyster and this is the one that most people have nowadays. Generally if you go into an oyster bar or if you’re buying oysters from a market or fishmongers they will be the rock oysters.
Now the native oyster is the one the purists will always have. They are meant to have better flavour but really that is not so much the case nowadays. The fact is the fisheries department actually class native oysters as susceptible (to contamination); they are the ones you could potentially have a problem with, whereas rock oysters are classed as non-susceptible. But to be honest, nowadays you will find most oysters will actually go through a purification process.
There is this supposed issue about which months you can eat oysters and this generally refers to the native oyster, because in some months the water they are in is obviously warmer. This is when the oysters tend to spawn and they have that milkiness in them, which is never the best way to have the oysters. This is why you would normally have oysters in much colder months and why the French eat ten times as many oysters as the English, mostly over the Christmas and New Year period. It is their traditional delicacy over the festive period. In England we get mince pies, the French, well they get oysters...we seem to have lost out there somewhere!
Oysters are naturally two or four chromosomes but nowadays, when they are farmed, they will cross breed a four and a two, which makes them a three chromosome oyster, and these are called a triploid. A triploid is an infertile oyster rather like a seedless grape, and because they don’t spawn they don’t get the milkiness, and are instead in the perfect condition all year round. We use these oysters an awful lot.
How to store oysters
Oysters are far more resilient than many would have you have believe, but there are a few important things to consider.
• Do not store or immerse in water.
• Store them the right way up, so that the oyster bowl is at the bottom and they can live in their juices.
Oyster Meister says: Napoleon was a big oyster eater and even when he was fighting on the Prussian front, every day and from the same little port in France, he would have a horse and cart lugging a large block of ice hollowed out and carrying a couple of baskets of oysters. It would take 12 or 13 days to get across Europe. They will last that long.
While they are delicate in their growing environment, their actual survival capacity is quite strong. They are quite used to spending their time under water and the other half of the time, at low tide, baking in the hot sun, so they are a hardy, resilient animal in that respect.
How to shuck an oyster
• Prior to opening, ensure all the oysters are alive and well (for the time being at least!) by making sure all the shells are closed tightly. Rinse and scrub with a stiff bristle brush. • Using a heavy glove (bare hands could result in a Paul Daniels scenario and there is no magic cure for that), hold the oyster firmly in one hand and slip the blade between the top and bottom of the shell right by the hinge on the back.
• Some oysters are incredibly reluctant to open, but with a little elbow grease and hopefully no mishaps (see Daniels above) they should open once you have run the knife around the oyster until you reach the other side.
• Using a twisting motion, pry the shell open ensuring you don’t lose any of the oyster juices as well as one of your fingers.
• Remove the top shell by cutting the muscle attached between the top and bottom shells, again making sure you retain all the oyster juice.
• Finally, cut the oyster free by sliding a knife under it and severing it from its shell.
Oyster Meister says: What we tend to do is a free-standing oyster shucking, holding the oyster in our hand, which is why we have the chainmail glove and use a traditional oyster knife which is a very short, sharp, pointed knife, with quite a thick blade along its spine. A normal oyster knife could well snap because these oysters are incredibly tough. They are a big muscle and the fresher they are the less likely they are to want to be opened.
We actually hold them in the hand, and come in at it around 3 o’clock as you are holding it. Once you have purchase there, we chop the top abductor muscle; remove it by bending it all the way back and we can then scoop underneath. Try to make sure you retain all the juices in there because that is the bit the purists all like. Although we actually find nowadays that more and more people want to get rid of quite a lot of the juices, because it has a lot of the real saltiness in it.
Once we then have the oyster in that shape, we are then able to dress it, and on the bolt we actually bring a selection of mixers or special condiments. We have a shallot vinaigrette, fresh lemon juice, red tabasco, green tabasco, a black pepper mill and sometimes people want us to bring a horseradish mix, or even a Bloody Mary mix to go in there as well.
What to drink with Oysters?
Although purists claim Champagne is not necessarily the ideal accompaniment to oysters, their inevitable association with Valentine’s Day
and the ‘food of love’ makes it a popular combination.
Oyster Meister says
: Strangely enough one of the nicest drinks to have with oysters is a pale sherry but to be honest, usually everyone will have a nice crisp white wine. A Chardonnay
or a Sauvignon Blanc
is great; the only thing oysters don’t really go with is spirits.
Oyster Meister brings a unique flavour to your party that will not be forgotten soon. To contact Oyster Meister for bookings call 0208 747 8981 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.