Rock oyster Crassostrea gigas
Native oyster Ostrea edulis
Oysters are bivalves, molluscs with hinged shells and valve like structures that evolved to pump water through their bodies, filtering out all the delicious plankton. Oyster beds play a very important to marine ecosystems - each oyster pumps and filters over 200 litres of water in a day. When oyster beds are dredged too hard, the build up and subsequent mass die off of plankton can suck all the oxygen out of the water causing mass fish die offs. These have been occurring more and more in the States, where warming sea temperatures are exacerbating things.
We get two types of oysters here in Britain, the native European oyster, Ostrea edulis and the Pacific rock oyster, Crassostrea gigas. The native oyster should only be eaten when there's an 'R' in the month, season runs from September to April. After this, the summer algal blooms can lead to a build up of toxins that can make people ill. Also native oysters spawn during the summer months, so they're best left to do their thing during this time. Rock oysters were first introduced to British waters back in 1890 and can actually be eaten all year round ('phew'). Rock oysters are farmed, either in cages or on beds in shallow water.
In Europe, oysters are traditionally eaten raw. First you need to open them. If you don't have a fancy shmancy oyster shucker, don't fret. In the video on the left, Oyster Queen Theresa shows you how to open oysters without a shucker. A flat head screwdriver works surprisingly well!
If you’d rather cook them, just whack them under a hot grill til their lids ‘pop’ and add some flavouring. Check out the recipes below.
Oyster accompaniments are about personal preference, go virgin and tip it straight down the hatch or try some our tried and tested favourites:
- squeeze of lemon
- splash of tabasco & lemon
- mignonette (classic French dressing of finely chopped shallots, red wine vinegar and white pepper)
- freshly grated horseradish
- Hendrick's gin and diced, lightly pickled cucumber
- soy sauce, sushi ginger and wasabi
- tequila, lemon, tabasco, shallot (it's goooood!)