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Oysters have a delicate seawater taste and are now considered to be one of the world’s most luxurious foods. The shells are rough and flinty, and marked with concentric circles that are a record of how the oyster has grown and changed in shape and size. The shells comprise a flat top and and a cupped lower half, joined with a hinge at the narrower end; inside sits the succulent, pale grey oyster. There are two main types of oyster available in Britain: Natives (grown in Whitstable, Colchester and Helford and considered to have the finest flavour and texture) and the less expensive Pacific (also known as rock), which has a larger, longer shell.

Native oysters are only eaten between September to April as the oysters spawn in the summer months and their flesh is too soft (or ‘milky’) to be eaten. Rock oysters are available all year round.

How to prepare oysters
Scrub the shell under a running tap to remove any grit. If any of the shells are open, and don’t close when tapped, discard them – it indicates that the oyster inside is dead. To open (or ‘shuck’) an oyster, it’s best to use a special oyster knife (or shucking knife) with a short, wide blade and has a guard to protect your knuckles. Wrap a tea towel around the hand that holds the oyster, to protect your hand if the knife slips. Then, using your other hand, insert the knife into the small gap in the hinge and twist it from side to side until the hinge breaks. Lever open the shell, then run the knife gently along the inner edges of the top shell to free the oyster. Discard the top shell. Wipe any fragments of shell off the oyster knife, then using the tip of blade, gently cut the oyster from the bottom shell, but leave it sitting in its juices. Do not eat if it has an ‘off’ or unusual smell.

Oysters are most commonly eaten raw with just a squeeze of lemon juice or drop of Tabasco sauce. Angels on Horseback (oysters wrapped in bacon or Parma ham and roasted) is another classic way of serving them. They can also be grilled with a topping of breadcrumbs and herbs, or added to a traditional steak and oyster pie. Smoked, canned oysters are also available.

Oysters are highly perishable. Shucked oysters should be eaten as soon as purchased. Unopened oysters that are tightly shut will keep for 2-3 days wrapped in a damp tea towel and stored in the fridge.


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