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Oysters: prising open the myths

Are oysters really an aphrodisiac? And what's the deal with only eating them in months with an 'R' in them?

Jo Rees gets the low-down on the celebrated bivalves from Dorset’s own pearly king, Nigel Bloxham of Crab House Cafe in Wyke Regis

What’s the best way to eat an oyster?

I change my mind on this all the time but currently my favourite way is with a dash of hot sauce and a squirt of lemon or lime juice. Then, instead of just swallowing them whole, chew three or four times to get all the flavour.

Are oysters alive when you eat them?

They’re alive until you open them, then they’re gone. That’s why you should never eat an oyster if the shell is already open.

What’s the secret to eating an oyster with finesse?

Don’t go for an oyster that’s too big, and tip your head back so you don’t drip it down your front. If the oysters are very fresh – like ours, which are farmed on the beach by the restaurant – they’ll often have a fair bit of water in them, so you might want to tip a little of that away first.

Why are oysters a luxury item when they were once the food of the working class?

Native oysters used to be very prolific so they were cheap, but in the 20th century overfishing and disease almost wiped them out. Most oyster farmers in the UK now grow Pacific oysters, which are carefully farmed to avoid the spread of this population into the wild, so are now expensive and sought after.

crab house cafe oysters

Perfect oyster/drink pairing?

I like a dry white like a Picpoul or a Muscadet, or even a dry Manzanilla sherry. Stout is the traditional accompaniment and was originally brewed to wash down putrid oysters so the poor could get the benefit of their protein.

Do oysters taste of their terroir?

Absolutely. They filter up to 18 litres of water an hour and the flavour of that water affects the flavour of the oyster. The water also changes throughout the year depending on the weather: more rainwater reduces the salinity of the sea which makes oysters sweeter.

What’s the likelihood of finding a pearl?

Very unlikely: Pacific oysters are different from the ones farmed to make pearls, although it does happen – I’ve found three or four in my time.

Are oysters really an aphrodisiac?

They’re nature’s Viagra! Some say it’s because of the zinc [important for reproductive health], but maybe they’re just seen as romantic.

And the rule about only eating oysters in months with an ‘R’ in them?

They used to say you shouldn’t eat oysters in the summer months but that was because that was when native oysters were spawning and fattening up. Now we seed them all year round so that isn’t an issue.

Read our review of Crab House Cafe here.

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