The World Is Your Oyster

I’ve mentioned oysters more than once before, and of course they’re currently out of season. But I’m missing them, so thought I’d post the first mention of them from my book, ‘Aphrodisiacs’.

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Let’s face it, the oyster is pretty much the daddy of all aphrodisiacs. It’s the first food people think of when they’re asked to come up with one. They also conjure up some pretty mystical and magical feelings, I mean there are very few other foods that have live streaming websites. I kid you not, you really can watch oyster beds live on camera.

But all this oyster-worship is a little odd, since Aphrodite herself is normally shown rising from the sea in a scallop shell, not an oyster shell. It obviously derives all its power from that sympathetic magic, My “E” number 2, the enigma. But there’s not much of an enigma about it, really. I mean they are stacked full of zinc, which is good for the libido, but you’d need to eat about half a ton to make any serious difference. But let’s just be honest from the outset. The oyster looks a bit like certain lady parts, and that moist, slurpy method of eating them that we generally prefer, is just, well, frankly somewhat cunnilingual, if I may just make up an adverb.

Now you can do plenty of things with oysters, but I’m afraid that for my money, you can’t beat them live and raw with just the teeniest splash of tabasco, accompanied by a lovely crisp white wine. Champagne completes the cliché, but I prefer something with fewer bubbles tickling my tonsils, like a Loire-valley Sancerre or Touraine.

We’ve even developed a rude-sounding word for the preparation of this salty, tasty, gooey little bivalve mollusc, and who doesn’t enjoy a damn good shuck? So here’s probably the easiest recipe you’ll read today.

Live Fresh Oysters (half-a-dozen each at least)

For the rash amongst you, perhaps a little lemon juice, tabasco or a light vinegar

Hold the oyster with the cup-shaped shell in the palm of your hand, and the flat shell face-up. Take your flat-bladed stubby shucking knife, or any flat, broad sharp knife. Find the hinge, and work your knife in (just the tip!) between the shells near one of the corners of the hinge. Ease it gently in, and run it all the way around to the other edge of the hinge before tilting the knife to make the hinge ‘pop’. Separate the shells, and run your knife underneath the oyster flesh to sever it from the shell. Be careful not to tip it, or you’ll waste all those yummy juices. Splash on whatever sauce takes your fancy (or don’t), and slurp the whole thing back in one go.

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Les Huitres

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“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster”, or so said Jonathan Swift. I suspect that when most people are asked to name an aphrodisiac, this humble little bivalve shellfish is in the top three, if not first. With good reason, since it’s one of the few foods that ticks more than one box in my ‘five elements’ test.

We’ve even created a verb, ‘shucking’, with a certain naughtiness to its rhyming qualities (it wasn’t used about oysters until the late 19th century). And, let me tell you, if you have a badly shucked one, there is something quite impressive (so I’m told) to the act of wrestling the little bugger free of its shell using nothing but your tongue. And that’s part of the point, once opened (and they open with a flower-like quality to them) it’s the ‘sympathetic magic’ that strikes you first, the enigma. It has a certain something to it, a resemblance, some say, to female body parts.

It’s also (for most of us, anyway) expensive. I’m lucky, as I live 30 minutes away from this place…

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…and Cancale oysters are simply some of the best you can find anywhere in the world. Consequently I don’t have to worry about the cost or food miles involved in keeping them refrigerated in just the right way (4 degrees celsius, in 100% humidity, but not underwater). But if you pop to an oyster bar in London or New York City, you’ll be paying a fair amount more than the €10 a dozen I pay at the quayside. After all, you’re probably accompanying it with a delicious Loire valley white, or better still, a glass of Champagne’s finest, and neither of them come cheap either.

Amazingly, they’re also one of the few foods that could be argued to actually have a physiological effect. Massive zinc levels encourage the production of testosterone in both sexes, and the selenium and several of the amino acids they contain have been proved to stimulate the production of a range of other sex hormones. Now admittedly, you’d probably need to eat about three dozen before there was any significant effect, but that sounds like an interesting challenge.

So obviously I love oysters, ideally with a fresh, crisp glass of Touraine (which is the closest thing to a ‘house wine’ I have). But their salty taste, which I find to be unlike any other shellfish, can be wonderful in ways other than just fresh and live.

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The ‘three ways with Oysters’ I have on my menu includes the obvious freshly-shucked ones with a squeeze of lemon, but also a deep-fried option and a grilled one. And the combination of the three, both texturally and flavour-wise, complement one another delightfully.

So number two is to grill them. After shucking and removing from the shell, replace it and sprinkle a crumble of blue cheese (ideally a dry, hard one like Stilton, as the saltiness of a French Roquefort or Bleu d’Auvergne can overpower the oyster itself) and finely-ground walnuts into the shell, and grill it on a high heat for two or three minutes.

Alternate this with the deep-fried hot variety. Take the little fellows out, roll them in flour, followed by egg wash, and finally a mix of fine breadcrumbs, a pinch of white pepper and a pinch of mild cayenne pepper or paprika. Deep-fry them for no more than a minute and a half, and serve with a splash of tabasco or a sweet chilli sauce.

Refresh your palette with a slug of that crisp white wine and a fresh live one, and start over again. I enjoy serving a mini-platter like this as an hors d’oeuvre, especially if Champagne is the apéritif du jour.

The Aphrodisiac Cliché

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince it’s relaunch time, it’s probably worth mentioning that the most oft-quoted aphrodisiac food does play a special part in my life. The sun is shining, it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, so what better to break up the afternoon? A couple of fresh fresh fresh Cancale oysters with a glass of bubbles to be going on with.

More musings on oysters later this evening.