Oyster, oysters everywhere….

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What is it about an oyster that makes so many people scrunch up their faces when offered one of those delicious bivalves? Why do so many instantly decide – “No, I don’t or won’t like them”. Come on, surely you are brave enough to try an oyster, try one and then another, maybe a third, then you are hooked – a dozen isn’t enough. Those of us who like oysters don’t just like them, we really, really love them.

Oysters are a brilliant source of zinc and vitamin D and the good news is that we are smack bang in the middle of the oyster season. There are two main varieties, the indigenous Irish oyster, Ostrea edulis and Crassostrea gigas. The latter are often referred to as Pacific, Portuguese, or Rock Oysters. They have curvy shells and are less expensive because they mature in 2 to 3 years as opposed to the much prized native Irish oyster which takes at least 4 to 5 years to mature and is only in season when there is an ‘R’ in the month – September to April.

You’ll find your fresh oysters in the English Market in Cork and at several Farmers Markets in the Cork area e.g. Douglas and Mahon where you can eat freshly shucked Rossmore oysters right there and then. Rock oysters can be enjoyed all year round, ‘au naturel’ or cooked. ‘Natives’ are such a delicacy that there’s no need to ‘faff’ around with hot sauces and dressings, best enjoyed just as they are. All they need, if anything is just a little squeeze of fresh lemon. Not sure if we fully realise how much delicious and exquisite, Irish oysters are prized the world over. Nothing apart from the tiny Olympians from the North Pacific coast of America can even come close in terms of flavour. So seek them out for a real gastronomic experience but it’s also worth mentioning that Irish oyster fishermen need and would deeply appreciate our support because the restaurant industry and their overseas markets have been so severely affected by the Covid 19 pandemic and the Brexit delays at the ports.

If you can get your hands on some large gigas oysters, there’s a super variety of cooked oyster recipes. Try English Market in Cork City or contact Oyster producers around the country, Harty’s in Dungarvan, Kelly’s in Galway, Irish Premium Oysters to name a few…. Many will courier a panier of fresh oysters direct to your door overnight.

Ballymaloe House guests will fondly remember Myrtle’s, Hot Buttered Oysters on toast and the exquisite Oysters in Champagne sauce. Oysters Kilpatrick or Oyster Rockerfeller are two other classics you might like to try.

I also love crispy oysters with Wasabi Mayo and the warm oysters with Horseradish cream that I first tasted in New York.

HOW TO OPEN AN OYSTER

You will need an oyster knife.

It’s wise to protect your hand with a folded tea towel when opening oysters.  Wrap the tea towel round your hand, then lay the deep shell on the tea towel with the wide end pointing inwards.   Grip the oyster firmly in your protected hand while you insert the tip of the knife into the hinge, twist to lever the two shells apart; you’ll need to exert quite a lot of pressure, so it’s foolhardy not to protect your hand well.   Then, slide the blade of the knife under the top shell to detach the oyster from the shell. Discard the top shell, then loosen the oyster from the deep shell, flip over to reveal the plump side, don’t lose the precious briny juice. 

Hot Buttered Oysters on Toast

Delicious on toast but if you choose to serve these wonderfully curvaceous oysters in their shells they tend to topple over maddeningly on the plate so that the delicious juices escape.  In the restaurant we solve this problem by piping a little blob of mashed potato on the plate to anchor each shell.

12 Pacific (Gigas) oysters

25g (1oz) butter

1 teaspoon parsley, finely chopped (for second option)

To Serve

4 segments of lemon

4 ovals or rectangles of hot buttered white toast

Sprigs of fresh chervil, if available.

Open the oysters, remove from the shell and keep aside. Melt the butter in a pan until it foams.  Toss the oysters in the butter until hot through – 1 minute perhaps.  Spoon the oysters onto the hot buttered toast. The toast will soak up the juices, serve immediately with a wedge of lemon and a sprig of chervil on top. Simply delicious!

Hot Buttered Oysters in their Shells

Alternatively, open the oysters and detach completely from their shell, disgard the top shell but keep the deep shell and reserve the liquid. Put the shells into a low oven to heat through. Melt half the butter in the pan until it foams. Toss the oysters in butter until hot through – 1 minute perhaps. Spoon a hot oyster into each of the warm shells. Pour the reserved oyster liquid into the pan and boil up, whisking in the remaining butter and the finely chopped parsley. Spoon the hot juices over the oysters and serve immediately on hot plates with a wedge of lemon.

Hot Oysters with Champagne Sauce

Don’t just fip over this recipe. The flavour is sublime – a real treat and worth the effort.

Serves 4

16 Rock or Japanese Oysters

Champagne Sauce

This sauce is also excellent with baked fish, i.e. turbot, black sole and brill.

Half bottle of Champagne or sparkling white wine

1oz (25g/1 tablespoon) chopped shallot

4 large egg yolks

8ozs (225g) of butter

1/2 pint (300ml) whipped double cream

First make the champagne sauce.

Boil the champagne with the shallot, reducing to 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon).  Remove from the heat and beat in the yolks.  Return to a very low heat and add the butter bit by bit as for Hollandaise sauce. When all the butter has melted fold in the whipped cream.

Scrub the oysters well.  Just before serving put into a hot oven 250°C/475°F/regulo 9 until they just start to open and release their juices. Using an oyster knife remove and discard the top shell, place a little champagne sauce on top of each oyster and put under a hot grill until golden.  Serve immediately and garnish with fennel and a lemon wedge.

Da Fiore Crispy Oysters

This recipe comes from my favourite fish restaurant in Venice.

Serves 6-8

24 Pacific Oysters

Tempura

Hollandaise Sauce (see recipe)

Bamboo Cocktail sticks

Hollandaise Sauce

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic

125 g (5ozs) butter cut into dice

1 dessertspoon cold water

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx.

Tempura Batter

4 tablesp flour

1 tablesp cornflour

 ½ teasp gluten free baking powder

800 ml ice cold water

1 large egg white

pink pepper corns

roughly chopped chervil sprigs

Oil for deep frying

First make the Hollandaise Sauce.Put the egg yolks in a heavy stainless saucepan on a low heat, or in a bowl over hot water.  Add water and whisk thoroughly.  Add the butter bit by bit, whisking all the time.  As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece.  The mixture will gradually thicken, but if it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly scrambling, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water if necessary.  Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made.  Finally add the lemon juice to taste.  If the sauce is slow to thicken it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low.  Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to coating consistency. 

It is important to remember that if you are making Hollandaise Sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage.  If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand it is also too hot for the sauce.

Another good tip if you are making Hollandaise Sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so you can plunge the bottom of the saucepan into it if becomes too hot.

Keep the sauce warm until service either in a pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water (do not have gas jet on).  A thermos flask is also a good option.

Open the oysters and save and strain the liquid and the shells. Make the tempura batter. Sieve the flour, cornflour and baking powder into a bowl.  Add the water and whisk just enough to barely combine, don’t over-mix.  Whisk the egg white in a separate bowl; fold into the batter with a little salt.

To serve: warm the oyster shells in the oven. Heat the oil in a deep fryer. Whisk the 4 tablespoons of oyster liquid into the hollandaise, taste and add more if necessary. Dip the oysters one at a time into the batter, fry for a minute or two until crispy. Meanwhile put a generous teaspoon of sauce into each shell, spear each crispy oyster with a bamboo stick and lay one on top of each shell. Garnish with a little chervil and sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt and some roughly ground pink peppercorns on the plate.

Tempura Oysters with Wasabi Mayo

Follow the recipe above but serve with Wasabi Mayo rather than Hollondaise.

Wasabi Mayo

125g (4 1/2oz) homemade Mayonnaise

1 – 2 tablespoons wasabi paste or to taste

coarsely chopped parsley

Simply mix all the ingredients together to make your mayonnaise and serve with crispy tempura oysters.

Warm Oysters with Horseradish Cream and Chervil

Serves 6-8

24 Gigas oysters

Horseradish Cream (see recipe)

Garnish

sprigs of chervil

First make the horseradish cream (see recipe), cover and chill.

To Serve

Preheat the oven to 250˚C/500˚F/Gas Mark 10. 

Put the oysters into a baking tray on a bed of coarse salt.  Pop into the oven and cook until the shells just pop open.  Lift off the top shell.  Spoon about a dessertspoon of horseradish cream over the oyster.  Top with a sprig of chervil and serve immediately.  The oyster should be hot and the horseradish cream cold and fluffy.  Serve immediately on a bed of seaweed or coarse salt.

Horseradish Cream

Serves 8 – 10

3 – 6 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

lots of freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

110mls (4fl oz) cream

110mls (4fl oz) milk

Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Fold in the cream and milk. Whisk to froth up.

Wild Food of the Week

Alexander, horse parsley (Smyrnium olusatrum)

Time to go foraging again….Alexander’s grow in profusion along the cliffs, roadsides and hedges near the sea in the south of Ireland. For the purpose of identification, they are an umbelliferous plant so they look a bit like cow parsley but with paler green leaves. They are in season now and are brilliant to pick from now until March or April when they begin to flower, depending on the weather. It’s a Mediterranean plant that was introduced to these islands by the Romans and was originally planted as a vegetable. The flavour is delicate and delicious; in fact the taste is slightly like sea kale. The young leaves are good in salads and the peeled stalks make a tasty vegetable. They are best harvested just before the buds burst into flower. Otherwise, like many plants, they become bitter.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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