02 September 2005

Yummy oysters

I suddenly had a craving for oysters.

It must be due to the seafood diet I've been having lately. Fish, mussels in soup, squid, baked tahong. But when was the last time I had oysters? 4,5 years ago.

My first taste of oysters was when I was a kid. My father's friends from Dagupan would go to our home in Baguio and bring a basketful of oysters. They would pour hot water over these in a basin, look for telltale holes in the seemingly solid piles of rock, and deftly open it with a knife to reveal the fresh, tasty morsel within. Yummy.

My younger brother loved to hang out with my father and his friends. Pretty soon, he also became adept at opening oysters. I satisfied myself with bugging our Tatay for some. He would give us a couple, and then refuse us some more, saying our stomach couldn't handle more.

The last time I had oysters was the baked variety at Via Mare's. Loads of melted cheese on it, the oysters sitting on a bed of rock salt. It was simply delicious.

Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia on oysters:
Oysters can be eaten raw, or smoked, boiled, baked, fried, roasted, stewed, canned, pickled, or broiled (grilled). Preparation can be as simple as opening the shell, while cooking can be as spare as adding butter and/or salt, or can be very elaborate.

Like all shellfish, oysters have an extremely short shelf-life, and should be fresh when consumed. Precautions should be respected when eating them (see below). Purists insist on eating oysters raw, with no dressing save perhaps lemon juice or vinegar. Raw oysters are regarded like wines in that they have complex flavors that vary greatly among varieties and regions: some taste sweet, others salty or with a mineral flavor, or even like melon. The texture is soft and fleshy, but crisp to the tooth.

Oysters are generally an expensive food in places where they aren't harvested, and often they are eaten only on special occasions, such as Christmas. Whether oysters are predominantly eaten raw or cooked is a matter of cultural preference. In the United States today, oysters are usually cooked before consumption; canned smoked oysters are widely available as preserves with a long shelf life. Raw oysters were, however, once a staple food along the East Coast of the US, and are still easily found in states bordering the ocean. Oysters are nearly always eaten raw in France.

Fresh oysters must be alive just before consumption. There is a simple criterion: oysters must be tightly closed; oysters that are already open are dead and must be discarded. To confirm an open oyster is dead, tap the shell. Alive oyster will close and is safe to eat. Opening oysters requires skill, for live oysters, outside of the water, shut themselves tightly with a powerful muscle. The generally used method for opening oysters is to use a special knife (called a shucking knife), with a short and thick blade, inserting the blade (with some moderate force and vibration if necessary) at the hinge in the rear of the shell, and sliding it upward to cut the adductor muscle (which holds the shell closed). Inexperienced cooks can easily slip and injure themselves; this is said to be a significant cause of domestic accidents in the Christmas season in France.

An alternative to opening raw oysters before consumption is to cook them in the shell – the heat kills the oysters and they open by themselves. Cooked oysters are savory and slightly sweet-tasting, and the varieties are mostly equivalent.

A piece of folk wisdom concerning oysters is that they are only safe to eat in months containing the letter 'r.' This is because oysters spawn in the warmer months, from roughly May to August. They are safe to eat at all times of the year, although their flavor when eaten raw can be somewhat watery and bland during spawning season. Oysters from the Gulf of Mexico spawn throughout the year, and are generally best cooked.

So, anybody out there who wants to invite me to dine on oysters? :-)
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