Social anxiety is not a problem that usually goes hand-in-hand with aphrodisiacs. However, that renowned sexual enhancer, the oyster, is no normal aphrodisiac. It may spice things up in the bedroom, but when you’re still in the restaurant it can cloud your evening with uncertainty.
Don’t eschew the shellfish, however. With the help of Decatur’s oyster-loving owner, Tom Browne and Robin Wright, cofounder of The Wright Brothers, we’ve debunked the myths surrounding the slurping of this fidgety food, and saved your date night as a result…
"Don’t eschew the shellfish..."
To look like a connoisseur, you first need some background. “There are two main species of oyster in the UK,” Robin Wright explains, “Pacific and Rock, which are teardrop shaped. However, there’s also the Native, which is a sort of round flat oyster. Generally, the Native is the crème de la crème.”
Wright puts this down to their diminishing supply. The Pacific is the most commonly found oyster, and the one most people would identify as a typical oyster in both shape and taste. Two even more specific types that Robin recommends right now are from Waterford Bay in Ireland and the Jersey. But, whatever your choice, here’s the way to eat them…
Add lemon juice and tabasco to make oysters more palatable
When the elegant platter arrives at your table, the usual suspects will likely be delivered alongside: Shallots; vinegar; lemon juice; tabasco. Don’t be overwhelmed, and immediately think you’re out of the loop on some intricate oyster alchemy.
There’s no ideal combination and it’s all down to taste. We’d recommend sticking to the lemon and tabasco, to make the oysters taste a little more familiar.
Be sparing with these condiments
That’s not to say you should drown the poor blighters. Tom Browne explains that “if you’re at an oyster bar, the way to look like a pro is to avoid all of the condiments, certainly at least on the first oyster, save for maybe a drop or two of lemon juice. [This] will bring out just enough [acidity] to compliment the saltiness and for you to get the full flavour of the oyster.
“We often see people come up and they’re like ‘ooo I love oysters’,” he continues, “and then you give them the oysters and then they put on a teaspoon of Tabasco and a teaspoon or shallots and vinegar and then they’re putting a whole lemon over the top of it and you’re like, ‘man, you don’t love oysters, you love condiments!’”
Experiment with alternative condiments to look learned
Ultimately, eating an oyster is a customisable experience. So, if you want to experiment with condiments, Wright offers a few that err towards the odder end of the spectrum. “One of my favourites is a sort of rice wine recipe from Hog Island Oysters in America,” he offers. “It’s a really good one. We’d also recommend wasabi, ginger and soy”.
Try ‘kissing’ your oyster
The traditional way of enjoying these morsels of gelatinous deliciousness is to slide them from the shell into your mouth. And sure, it gets the job done, but it’s just so ordinary. Tom Browne reveals a less commonly known technique that he calls ‘The Kiss’.
“You basically kiss with your lips and create suction and that allows the oyster to just pop into your mouth and you avoid getting little bits of dirt or chips of shell involved.” It’s still not the sexiest way to eat, but considerably better than getting oyster down your chin.
Always chew your oyster
Again, against the grain — but nothing shows you up as an oyster amateur more than swallowing without chewing. “If you’ve not had an oyster before,” says Browne, “and certainly if you’re a little bit challenged by their appearance and their texture, that is the easiest way to trigger your gag reflex, so we always recommend chewing the oysters.”
Not chewing, we’re told, is the equivalent to straw-pedoing a bottle of Brunello Di Montalcino – you’re going to miss the subtleties. Robin Wright reiterates this: “If you really want to taste the flavour, [it’s] very important to masticate it slowly, because oysters from different areas have completely different flavours depending on the environment they’re grown in. A bit like the terroir of grapes. The oyster takes on the flavour of the environment it’s grown up in.”
Got that? Now go forth armed with shellfish knowledge and slurp to your heart’s content…
Once the oysters has been slurped, Gentleman’s Journal is here to guide you through the next etiquette hurdle – the rules of tipping…