Preparing oysters at home: How to get it right
If you're planning a special meal, there aren't many foods more impressive than oysters. But how do you get them just right when preparing oysters at home? Here are all the tips you need.
When to eat oysters
The native oyster (ostrea edulis), also known as the flat or European oyster, has a smoother, flatter, rounder shell than the Pacific or Japanese oyster (Crassostrea gigas).
Native oysters, unlike the Pacific variety, are not good to eat in the summer months while they are spawning, during which time they will taste unpleasant.
This is why they have the best flavour in the cooler months with the letter ‘R’ in them, and they are not available in the shops during summer. Pacific oysters breed differently, so they taste agreeable all year round.
There is very little chance of eating a contaminated oyster as long as you choose ones with their shells tightly shut.
Oysters sold commercially are safe to eat fresh and raw as they undergo a cleansing period in purified water for 42 hours. This eliminates any bacteria that the oysters may have imbibed. The public cannot buy oysters that have not been treated this way.
Fresh oysters that are tightly shut can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a few days. Wash off any mud before storing them, but do not soak them. Oysters that have been opened are best when eaten straightaway but can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 3 hours.
Oysters are most often served raw, topped with cayenne pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. They may also be grilled lightly in the half shell, so that they just curl, or topped with breadcrumbs or garlic butter. They can also be cooked in soups and chowders.
Eat with caution
Oysters are a very concentrated source of protein and some people find them hard to digest for this reason.
As oysters are often eaten on festive occasions, they may be consumed with more alcohol than usual, which can also contribute to adverse side effects.
Oysters do seem to cause particularly severe problems if mixed with spirits, so it is better to drink chilled white wine or champagne, or even cool dark stout, with them.
How to open oysters safely
- To open native oysters, hold the oyster firmly on a board, rounded shell down, with a tea towel wrapped around your hand in case the knife slips
- Using an oyster knife, work the point in the hinged end, then twist the knife and break the shell open
- Cut through the muscle holding the shell closed and the muscle fixing the meat to the shell
- Serve in the deep shell, with its liquor. Pacific oysters are harder to open because of the crumbly ‘apron frill’ around the shell but the same rules apply
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