Oysters once had a reputation as the fare of the tweed-wearing classes, tucking into them down at places like The Ritz. But while oysters are indeed a delicacy, these days you don't have to put your fancy pants on to indulge.
With fisheries harvesting them all around the UK, super fresh local oysters can be enjoyed nearly all over the country. The Stew and Oyster in Leeds, El Metro in London and The Italian Club Fish in Liverpool are some great examples, and with them we say, oysters for all.
Fresh and legion
Describing the taste of an oyster is like explaining what a colour looks like. You can only grasp it once you've experienced it yourself. Here's the underlying principle: a good oyster is as fresh as can be, having left its salt-water home very recently and shucked right before landing on the plate.
Beyond that, there are many varieties. They're salty, briny, umami, mild or sweet. They're buttery smooth or waxy melon. They can be copper and metallic, yet fresh and natural. They're firm, creamy, chewy and gooey. Eat them raw, lightly grilled, baked or fried. Pair them with an assortment of trimmings like sharp lemon juice, hot Tabasco or a brisk shot of red-wine vinegar and shallots.
Oysters for all
It's a funny thing to consider who first looked at an oyster, wobbling in its calcified shell and thought 'I wonder how this tastes'. But we're sure glad they took the plunge.
Packed with zinc and other vitamins, oysters appear to have been an important part of the diet of prehistoric people, with evidence of their consumption in Australia dating back 10,000 years. In the UK, they have been around since the Ancient Romans farmed them in what is now Kent.
Entirely contrary to their aristocratic connotations today, oysters in the 1800s were eaten by the working class. But rising demand led to a depletion of stocks and the scarcity resulted in a price hike, making oysters exclusive and expensive. Oysters Rockefeller didn't just become a menu item, but a catchphrase for the richer-than-rich.
Thankfully today, sustainable practices and plenty of farms mean that everyone can enjoy these molluscs.
Rules and rewards
If you're someone who swallows an oyster whole, saying a prayer as you let it slide down your throat, you're doing it wrong. An oyster must be chewed for its full flavour to come out.
And another thing – don't pour out the oyster juice. Sip it or mop it up with bread. It's all part of the flavour.
Now that you know the rules, you can fully appreciate the art form at places like El Metro in London, which serves oysters that put their freshness first. The Italian Club Fish in Liverpool offers a spicy sharp Tabasco and shallot vinegar brine, or a light batter with salsa verde and a lemon wedge. The Stew and Oyster gastropub in Leeds goes hearty, serving eponymous specialties like their homemade stew of tender beef and juicy oysters in a rich gravy with onions, carrots and potatoes.
Any which way you like them, enjoy your oysters at home with Deliveroo.