Oysters may be an acquired taste for some, but its one I acquired early and have continued to indulge as often as possible. So, when I got the chance to try out Wright Bros new Oyster Masterclass I was almost beside myself with excitement: they are credited with bringing the whole concept of oyster bars to London, and supply god knows how many restaurants around the capital with their seafood.
Cut to a Saturday morning in their Kingly Court branch and I'm ready and waiting with glass of champagne in hand (included in the £60 price) anticipating the arrival of my first oyster of the day - in May. May? Yes. The old adage of only eating oysters when there is an 'R' in the month no longer stands up thanks to new breeding techniques and it is perfectly ok to eat them all year long. Great news.
And what about their reputation as an aphrodisiac? Apparently Casanova breakfasted on 50 odd oysters, and he did alright with the ladies. Possibly because oysters are packed with zinc (good for 'refuelling', shall we say), plus B12 (v important for energy, especially women) and two very unusual amino acids that are completely impossible to buy in Holland and Barrett and do very clever things with testosterone and progesterone. So yes, put down your Marvin Gaye and start shucking away. (I said SHucking - its the term for opening oysters).
Science lesson over, we'll move on to the serious business of tasting. If you've never tried oysters I implore you to. They are one of the freshest shellfish going as they're alive right until the point of opening, and believe it or not they keep *really* well. Two weeks in your fridge is no problem for them - just don't put them on ice for a long time, in light and certainly not under water - they're happiest resting and 'ageing' left on their round side in your fridge. And you're more likely to get norovirus by going on the tube than eating an oyster, so no worries there. Get yourself a glass of white wine - lots of people think champagne overpowers them - so go for something coastal, or Simon the Oyster Master even likes a light red wine. We drank Muscadet and Sauvignon Blanc throught (still included).
Oysters taste best if you don't knock them straight back; all you'll get then is a quick taste of seasalt. Instead, give it three chews and try and take in a bit of air (like at a wine tasting), then swallow. You should be able to enjoy a more complex mixture of salt, sweetness, umami and even other flavours based on the oyster's provenance. I won't go into all the different types we tried, but there are quite significant differences in taste depending on where the oyster was farmed and what it looks like. Some are creamy, some are meaty, some are earthy. Try some and see what you think. The best way is traditionally, with a small squeeze of lemon and maybe some shallot vinegar at a push - this allows the full flavours of the oyster to emerge. Wright Brothers have an interesting line in dressed and cooked oysters though, if you're in the mood for something new...
And cooked! These are from L-R, pancetta, marscapone, beetroot and oyster pie;barbecued oyster with tomato and olive salsa; tempura oyster with sweet miso and bonito flakes.
The oyster pie was very entertaining, but the tempura version really stole the show. The bonito flakes (bonito is fermented dried tuna) were really evocative of the Prawn Toast Masquerading as Okonomiyaki at Shackfuyu and the sweet miso was unbelievably moreish. Let's look at it close up:
I really want to eat that again.
Finally, after an hour and a half of mollusc and wine fun, we were shown how to shuck for ourselves. Whenever I buy oysters to have at home I end up using a cheese knife to do it, so was keen for a proper demonstration. Simon produced a snazzy knife and showed us how to wiggle the knife until the oyster kind of takes it in, then cleanly sweep across the flat side of the shell and prise open. Easy.
Oysters at home are a really fun thing to do, and they are usually inexpensive from your local fishmonger (or even supermarket but beware of how long they've been on ice). Once you've got the hang of the shucking, there'll be no stopping you.
Thank you Simon, Wright Bros and your super creative chefs for a great day. There's nowhere better in London to enjoy an oyster or twelve.