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Monday, June 22, 2009


Some love them, some hate them. Instant death or aphrodisiac, oysters remain the enigma of the dining world. And now, in the heart of Melbourne's winter, is the best time to eat them. "How can you stand them?" Ive been asked by bug eyed weirdos who stare google eyed as I let another slip gracefully into my mouth. It's not a huge leap and possibly one of the most delicious morsels that can be consumed (not to mention a fantastic source of zinc which is very good for male "downstairs" health). Follow a few basic steps and you're guaranteed of a delicious dining experience that won't threaten your life.

Step 1. Never eat them in a month with an "R"

I got this useful piece of advice from Noel, publican at the Builders Arms Hotel in Fitzroy, one afternoon as we sat on the street eating oysters and drinking white wine (I think it was a Sav Blanc).

"Never eat them in a month with an R? Qu'est que si que ca?" I asked, impersonating Harry Hill (Actually, it's Finsbury Park: "Do they mean me? They surely do!")

It transpires that oysters spawn in warmer weather, as the water temperature heats up and this makes oysters taste a little "cloudy". Add to this the thought that you're decimating numbers while they breed and that in warmer weather the protein rich oysters are ideal breeding grounds for bugs, then it's kind of obvious that this is the wrong time of year to eat oysters.

Apparently this is the obverse rule for the northern hemisphere, who rule that you cannot eat oysters in a month without an R. But then, they get extra months of oyster eating, so if autumn hasn't been to fierce I think you can relax the rule to include late May and extend the season into September. Christmas oysters are, I'm afraid, black banned.

Step 2. Ensure they are freshly shucked

Shucking is the opening and preparation of the oyster. The process goes something like this. Whole oysters live on rocks, farmers come and break them off and pop the whole oyster (both top and bottom lid intact) into a wet hessian bag for transporting. The little live oysters sit huddled in the sack, much like kidnapees of the Hobyar man, where they can live for up to two weeks while waiting to be eaten.

At the fish mongers, someone (maybe you) comes along with a short flat knife. You insert it into the hinge of the oyster (because if you try and pry an oyster open where the lips close, the shell smashes). Insert the knife near the tendon and prise it open. One half should flip off. The next trick is to cut the connecting tendon of the oyster off the lid of the shell. And there you have it, one ready to eat "shucked" oyster.

The problem? Once an oyster is open, it dies. It lies in the open shell and exposes it's lovely self to the air and all passing germs, bugs, sneezes and other nasty airborne apocrypha. And now, with centralised warehousing at major supermarket chains, oysters can be opened days in advance, shipped hundereds of kilometers and then sit there waiting to be bought, all the time open and exposed to the air. I absolutely refuse to buy oysters from Safeway Wonthaggi, and that's the only place in town you can buy them. Go to a market!

Step 3. Keep them cold

Do not eat an oyster that's been sitting around warm. This is a good way to get food poisoning. Take a small esky if possible with you to the fishmongers and keep them on ice on your trip home (or down the coast).

Step 4. Sniff test

If they smell pongy, taste slightly fizzy or in any way leave you with a question mark, DO NOT EAT.

Step 5. Au natural or shooters, please

A personal bug bear of mine is the oyster kilpatrick. This recipe is possibly the best way to sully one of God's greatest achievements. I'm guessing the recipe was developed as a way to disguise slightly off osyters. The absolutely best way to eat an oyster is icy cold, with some lemon juice (the acid in the lemon cooks the fish) accompanied by white bread, butter and a really, really, cold Crown Lager.

I have to make a notable concession to oyster shooters, however, as a close second to au natural. I've been delightfully surprised by bloody mary shooters and an interesting twist they do at E-zards using Mirin and wasabi.

For more information on oysters, visit:

the walrus and the carpenter

or to find out about Ezards oyster shooters, visit:

the restaurant


read the epicure review...