October is known for its oyster fests around the country. And while some people find the idea of slurping down a raw oyster repulsive, I frickin’ love ’em! If I can pick what kind, I like the meatier ones that taste more on the salty side.
Oysters are like wine. They are not all the same. Cheap ones are not necessarily less good and their distinct flavors come from the region they are gathered from.
There is a terrible rumor that oysters are not to be consumed in months that don’t have an “r”. Actually that isn’t true at all. They can be eaten any month you can find them. This myth probably started centuries ago when shipping them during the summer months would have caused them to spoil before they ever made it to their destination. They are spawning during the warmer months though and this can make them less flavorful.
These luscious little bi-valves are known to be aphrodisiacs. The original thought started before we had any scientific knowledge of what actually may increase libido, but instead a judgement was made based on what they looked like. It is believed that these mollusks were originally thought to be an aphrodisiac because they were interpreted as being suggestive of the female sex organ. Much the same way ginger was for being suggestive of the male organ. (Remember they also thought the world was flat.) However, there actually is some truth to the aphrodisiac claim of an oyster. Oysters are high in zinc which can help raise the progesterone levels. A raised progesterone level combats impotence and increases libido.
Being one of the highest natural sources of zinc is not their only health property. They are a great source of low-fat protein and chock full of vitamins. The list includes Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, E, K and B6 & B12. I’m not done…they have a dose of Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folate, Pantothentic Acid, and Choline. This isn’t even the minerals! They also have omega3 and omega6 fatty acids as well as several amino acids. The list of minerals is as long as vitamins. As if there isn’t enough packed into these slimy jewels of the sea, it should be noted that they provide a supply of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, copper, manganese, and selenium on top of the zinc we already mentioned.
Whether you like them raw, steamed, fried, stewed or smoked, there are important things to remember when buying and preparing oysters. As with any shellfish, make sure you get them from a reputable seller. If you are planning on preparing and shucking them at home yourself, remember that oysters are alive. So you must keep them alive. The best way to do this is not by keeping them in water, despite what you might be inclined to think. Wrap them in a damp towel, paper bag, etc and refrigerate until ready to use. They should be closed tightly before you cook them. If one is partially open, tap the shell gently and make sure it closes. If it doesn’t, it’s dead-discard. If you steam them, or smoke or cook them in any way and they DON’T open, they were dead before you started and should be discarded.
Shucking is a whole other animal that I know absolutely nothing about. There are special tools that are required and I encourage you to look to one of the many places on the internet to find out how to do this, if you really want to do it yourself. Personally, I get my oysters already shucked.
There is always the discussion of condiments on a raw oyster. I myself am not a big condiment fan. I prefer mine with a squeeze of lemon and perhaps a dash of a hot sauce. Though my favorite is a beautiful medley of vinegar, chopped onion or scallion and a smidge of cracked pepper and salt (mignonette). But like any other food…explore! You know what flavors you prefer. Try mixing up your own topping or adding something to this treat that seems like it would be good to you. Trust your instinct.
If you’ve never had an oyster or it’s been a while since you have, give it a try. Maybe start with them steamed, smoked or stewed. Exploring new flavors and foods is a simple adventure we can have any day!
*By the way, oysters have a three-chambered heart (hence the title)