How do I love thee, dear oysters? Let me count the ways. I love thee on the half shell with freshly grated horseradish, smoked over burning embers, baked on a bed of garlicky spinach, stewed in a broth, pan-fried in cornmeal or tempura. (And those are just the starters.)
No doubt, I’m an oyster fan — always have been. It seems there’s no middle ground with these babies; either you love ‘em or despise ’em. Woody Allen, for instance, falls into the latter category. According to the website, foodreference.com, he’s quoted as saying, “I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead. Not sick, not wounded, dead.”
Ernest Hemingway, in “A Moveable Feast,” romanticized the inscrutable bivalve, writing, “As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
I’m quoting oyster extremists. But perhaps I’m mistaken; perhaps there is a middle ground. You may be an oyster waffler, unsure about your relationship with this inimitable mollusk. If you fall into this category, consider this: Oysters, loaded with zinc, potassium and omega-3 fatty acids, deliver a whopping nutritional punch.
Though I haven’t found any scientific data to back up its reputation as an aphrodisiac, oyster lore is replete with its amorous properties. Casanova is said to have eaten 50 raw oysters each morning for breakfast and, according to the website www.allaboutstuff.com, is said to have pronounced them “a spur to the spirit and to love.”
Still not convinced? According to the website www.justmeans.com, “Oysters may just be one of the most sustainable seafood options out there. Oyster farmers don’t need to use pesticides or antibiotics to keep their oysters healthy, nor do the oysters need to be given food. All in all, oysters, along with certain types of clams, mussels and other bivalves, are very well-suited for farming … have very low impact on their habitat, and are plentiful.”
One way to ease into oysters is by first enjoying them cooked. The following recipe is adapted from a favorite grilled oyster recipe served at New Orleans’ Acme Oyster House. I purchased Apalachicola oysters from Florida, and my brother agreed to shuck them if my sister-in-law grilled them and I made the sauce. Deal!
One of my finest evenings, this holiday season, was spent at a Zingerman’s Roadhouse wine and oyster dinner. My son, Zan, provided some of the entertainment, reciting his four-stanza original “sonnetish” in praise of the oyster. With his permission, I’m penning the first stanza:
“My nectar, my love, my salt-fill, my fluid,
My substantive amour and my whistle-wetting druid,
‘Tis not your shelled housing but how it well treateth,
Hospitably so, the meats I oft eateth.”
This oyster fetish of mine is, no doubt, genetic. I’ve observed in other family trees, as well, the oyster doesn’t stray far from the shell.
A freshly baked baguette, essential for mopping up the savory oyster juices, a crisp white wine, and a copy of “The Moveable Feast” (for inspiration) would be appropriate oyster accompaniments. Happy New Year!