Everything you need to know about oysters

Let’s be real about the fact that oysters can be intimidating: getting hold of fresh ones, preparing them, prying them open, eating them, dealing with the constantly deferred hope of finding a pearl… No one said life was going to be easy, but oysters are worth it and easier than you think to serve at home.

South African Oysters

Both wild picked and cultivated oysters are on the SASSI green list. They are therefore well managed and seen as being sustainable at the current rate of harvest. Most of SA’s wild picked oysters are from the East coast (Port Elizabeth, Mosselbay, Knysna) while cultivated oysters are mostly from Saldanha (where they are grown attached to ropes). The Saldanha Oysters are sent for regular testing to monitor red tide which occurs about 3-4 times a year and makes oysters a no go.

Sourcing fresh oysters

If you’ve ever eaten an oyster that is past its prime you will appreciate the importance of finding fresh oysters. If they’re off the back of a truck, you probably shouldn’t serve them to your mother-in-law (or your mother, for that matter). Most decent fish shops stock oysters in a tank, so build a relationship with a reputable local fish monger or fine food purveyor near you (like Wild Peacock, Ocean Jewels or Mother Schuckers).

Oyster knives

When it comes to opening oysters, having a specialised oyster knife is helpful. With a pointed blade for prying and a finger guard for protection if you slip – these nifty knives make shelling easy. We recommend these three oyster tools ranging from R75 – R395.

How to shuck an oyster

1. Make sure oysters are still alive by checking that their shells are tightly closed.
2. Scrub oysters with a stiff brush under running water.
3. Hold oyster in the palm of your hand with a towel so that you don’t cut yourself.
4. Work over a bowl so that you can catch the oyster’s juices.
5. Position the oyster in your hand with the cup-side down (flatter side faces up)
6. Insert a paring or oyster knife between the shells, near the hinge.
7. Twist the knife so that the oyster’s muscles are detached.
8. Remove the top shell.
9. Scrape the meat from the top shell into the bottom shell.
10. Use the knife to cut the oyster from the bottom shell, or serve it on the half shell.

Serving

Oysters are delicious served straight out of the shell with a squeeze of lemon juice and some cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce. If you are looking to fancy it up a little, give these three delicious oyster toppings a try.

Some tips and facts

  • When it comes to opening oysters concentration, and not speed, is king.
  • Oysters are on the SASSI green list
  • Open oysters can be kept in the fridge for up to three hours after opening
  • Oysters are rumoured to be an aphrodisiac (popular with Roman emperors)
  • Oysters are an excellent source of protein and contain Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Oyster range in size from cocktail, champagne and medium to large and even extra large

And that’s our wrap on the tasty little sea bivalves. Oyster eaters are divided into single slurpers and those who chew. Which are you?

Thanks to Julie Carter of Ocean Jewels for the interesting nuggets about oysters contributed to this article.