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28 October 2014

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Oyster heaven
Oyster alert!
spacer Our food critic Nigel Barden on how to get the best out of Casanova's favourite fuel...

audioNigel Barden appears on Lisa I'Anson's show every Monday between 3 - 5pm on 94.9FM. He's also on Drivetime on Wednesdays 7.00 - 7.30pm


Any decent ale houses in and around London? Keep me posted on your favourites at:


These are good places to get hold of both types of oysters:

Bibendum Crustacea Michelin House,
81 Fulham Road SW3. 020 7589 0864

John Blagden Fishmongers
65 Paddington Street W1. 020 7935 8321

Chalmers & Gray
67 Notting Hill Gate W11. 020 7221 6177

H. S. Linwood & Son
6-7 Grand Avenue, Leadenhall Market EC3. 020 7929 0554

Steve Hatt
88-90 Essex Road N1. 020 7226 3963

400 Oxford Street W1. 020 7629 1234

Otherwise most fishmongers and supermarket fish counters should have them - and of course they’ll be on offer at all decent fish restaurants, such as the Livebait & Loch Fyne outlets, Back to Basics (W1) and Rudland & Stubbs (EC1)


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We're currently full of new season Native oysters - there's an ‘R’ in the month after all, which suggests that these lovable bi-valve molluscs are at their best.

Basically, they thrive in cooler, winter waters. The tear-shaped Pacific, or Rock oysters are available all year round, but the tastier, rarer, rounder and more expensive Natives are only now adorning the fishmongers’ slabs.

Expect to pay 64p - £1.30 each for Pacifics and around £1.50 for Natives. The Natives will get cheaper in the coming months.

I tried some excellent versions from Rossmore, who farm them in 22 ponds, covering a 10-acre site in a hidden backwater of Cork harbour, on the south coast of Ireland.

Taste test

Oysters can be cooked, but I think they’re at their best when raw, with either a squidge of fresh lemon juice, a few drops of the fiery Louisiana sauce, Tabasco, or a touch of balsamic vinegar, or even soy sauce.

Serve with brown bread and butter (Irish soda bread seems apt) and chopped shallots in red wine vinegar cosy up nicely.

Wash down with a dry white - Muscadet and Touraine Sauvignon from the Loire Valley are spot on.

While we're on the subject...

Nigel Barden
Nigel Barden

The legend that oysters can put lead in your pencil (boys), or a swagger in your swivel (girls) is down to the high levels of zinc and iron they contain, which are important for male fertility.

They also contain dopamine, the chemical which provokes sexual interest and increases the intensity of sensation in both sexes.

Oysters were the fuel which fired Roman orgies and Casanova used to down 60 a day (well, it beats smoking).

Cunningly, oysters can choose to be either sex (ambi-sexual in other words), as their lives progress, although they start out as males.

Apparently it’s more popular to be female when there is plenty of food around. In rare cases oysters have been found with both sets of sex organs (game, set and match there)

Doing the prep

Ideally, eat them on the day of purchase, keeping them at the bottom of the fridge, covered in a damp tea cloth (or layer of seaweed, which your fishmonger might provide), with the flat side uppermost.

A good ‘shucking’ (opening) knife is crucial to get into them, as otherwise you’ll snap the blades of your lovely kitchen cutlery. The proper knives are broad, thick-bladed and perfect for working open the well secured shell.

Once open, hang on to the juice (‘love potion’) and separate the meat of the oyster from the two halves of shell, using the shucking knife.

Add the Tabasco, or whatever, put your head back, pour the lot in, chew for a few moments and enjoy the sensation as it slips down your clacker (as with all things in life, not everyone is up for this!).

Watch out

Eating a dodgy oyster is best avoided, so ensure it’s clamped shut, or if gapping, give the shell a tap and it should swiftly close.

Once open, it should glisten and smell sweet and fresh. If either dull looking or giving off an unpleasant whiff - bin it.

Once exposed to air, it expires you are not actually putting a living beastie in your gob!

As ever, if you're going the whole way - do it with gusto (lucky old gusto)...!

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