Oysters or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Seafood
I have been as guilty as any in having signed off the idea of oysters based purely on smell and texture fears.
My own awakening came in 2002 at a market in Grenoble, France (Les Halles) where I had taken my father one Sunday morning, during my studies, to buy some lunch. I knew how much he would love buying oysters direct from the vendor and also that he would be thrilled to have them opened to eat right there. However I had reckoned without the charming French moustachioed stall-holder being unable to countenance that I would pass up the opportunity to taste an oyster or two as we bought them.
As I confessed that I had never tried an oyster the poor man was naturally horrified and insisted I do so. I was obliged to agree because I am nothing if not intensely polite and British but I did think to ask how I should eat them,
<on ne les mâche pas, ne c'est pas? Il faut vraiment les avaler direct??> "One doesn't chew, right? Are you supposed to swallow them whole?!"
He was scandalised!
<mais bien sur il faut les mâcher, c'est comme ca qu'elles révèlent leur gout! On les mâche plusieurs fois et puis on les avale> "But of course you must chew in order to release their flavour! You chew a couple of times and then you swallow them"
It was at this point that I would cheerfully have faked an attack of cramp to escape but I steeled myself and eyed the proffered crustacean. It seemed to be looking back at me so I rapidly followed the advice and took a bite.... and another and then swallowed.... And, quite honestly, it wasn't as bad as I had expected. It tasted intensely of the sea in a way I still can't describe adequately. The feel of an oyster is, initially, less than appealing but there is also some substance and the texture turned out to be a far less of an obstacle to enjoyment than the strong flavour.
The stall-holder, who had been eyeing me, beadily, was pleased (presumably that I hadn't fainted dead away) and, in the style of all good commercial vendors, insisted I take another. He explained that the size affected the texture. I was obliged to try a larger example but I would find it more <charneux> (fleshy). He was correct and I thanked him for my oyster baptism but it would be some time before I would choose to eat them again.
It is nonetheless thanks entirely to the patience of one man in Sainte Claire Les Halles, and his passion for his produce, that I am such a convert to these fabulous delicacies today.
Which is lucky as I have worked in a number of places where they were eager to showcase their wines with oysters. And I am often fortunate enough to be on the sidelines helping taste a half dozen or so, discover a new oyster-based canapé or pour a little wine and introduce some more people to this fascinating combination.
- From lazy sunday brunches in Bordeaux of Arcachon Oysters in the sun with a petit blanc sec
- to New Zealand Bluff Oysters and Waipara aromatics with Shuck'n'Slurp (fund-raising for Christchurch Earthquake relief in 2012/13)
- Scottish Loch Oysters and Seaweed Gin for a memorable fathers day (coming soon on Vinus.uk)
- and Oysters on dutch Gins with black olives and Sherry (coming soon on Vinus.uk)
- ....there is always something new and fun to try pairing!