The rule is, if the month has an ‘r’ in it, it’s oyster time, and September is when oyster season really takes off.
Since April, the UK’s native oysters (those natural to our shores) have been holed up on seabeds, spawning the next generation – but come autumn, they’re back on the menu.
While generally considered a delicacy, the sight of their slightly flobby flesh and barnacled shells can easily put off oyster rookies. So here’s what you need to know to get over the initial ‘ewww’ and start shucking like a true connoisseur…
Oysters aren’t as slimy as they look
They might look like globules of mucous in their pearly shells, but in fact, when they’re ready to eat, their flesh should be firm, the part most tucked into the shell should be a creamy colour, and the whole thing should glisten.
You want them as fresh as possible
As with all seafood, the fresher the better. Oysters do have to be purified in clean water by fisheries prior to being sold, so you’re unlikely to get a ‘bad’ one, but still make sure they smell like the seashore before scoffing.
They taste of more than just salt
Yes, they should have that briny seaside smell, but in fact, the taste of oyster flesh is quite nuanced, and depends on their ‘terroir’ much like wine. Their final flavour depends on the algae, minerals and salinity they suck up in the ocean.
Cracking their shells is very satisfying
Insert a short, very sharp knife – wriggling and twisting it as you go – and prise open the shell from frill to hinge. The shells can be sharp, so wrap them in a tea towel to protect your hands while opening. It’ll make that ‘shucking’ sound when the two sides of the shell come free of each other.
You can pair them with all sorts of flavourings
If their natural flavourings aren’t enough for you, douse your raw oysters (served on a bed of ice, of course) in fresh lemon juice, season with Tabasco sauce or a vinegar of your choice. Alternatively, just eat alongside a glass of champagne.
They can be cooked – you don’t have to eat them raw
If slurping oysters raw really doesn’t appeal, they can be poached, grilled, fried, baked and deep fried – the latter of which we’d particularly recommend.
Although you do feel very sophisticated knocking them back raw
In Victorian times oysters were very much the fare of the working classes, they fell out of popularity and are now seen as something of a luxury. It’s hard not to feel elegant with an oyster in one hand and a glass of something cool in the other – whether you’re at home or in a fancy restaurant.
Don’t overdo it though – they’re packed with minerals and protein
Two or three in a single sitting is just the right amount, otherwise you can overload your body with protein (and end up feeling quite sick). They’re the ultimate pre-dinner nibble – without the nibbling, just let them slide down without chewing!
And if you get a real taste for them, non-native Pacific oysters are available almost year-round.