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London Oyster Guide

Oyster seasons The traditional season for natives was September 1 to April 30 or the winter months with an ‘r’. The closed season was to allow them to spawn and come back into condition. They spawn in the warmer summer months and after spawning their body flesh takes a while to come back into good condition.

Though many oyster lovers have their favourites all would sample ones from different areas eagerly, and many restaurants serve a variety of oysters from around the coast of Britain as well as some imported from France, particularly Fines de Claire from Brittany.

Opening oysters (p98-101)

Rock oysters do not have a closed season, although they have now acclimatised to the British summer and many will be very ripe, overplump and milky as though about to spawn. In some areas in a hot summer they have been known to spawn. Therefore over the summer many oyster aficionados take a rest from their favourite shellfish. Each fishery will monitor stocks and often stop supplying if the oysters become ‘milky’.

Native and rock oysters are similar in that they have a flat top shell and a deep bottom one. They have a single hinge and one adductor muscle that holds the two shells together. The oysters can be opened either by breaking through the hinge and then slipping the knife to cut the adductor muscle; or the knife slipped in to the right hand side of the oyster to cut the adductor muscle first then the top shell removed, breaking the hinge.

Oyster fisheries and farms

In France nearly all oyster openers cut through the side to the muscle often with a very small, thin oyster knife. In Britain many openers use the hinge method. The side approach can cause tiny fragments of shell into the oyster whereas the hinge method can carry a speck of mud from the hinge. Both ways the oyster can easily be cleaned using the knife to remove any traces of mud or shell.

Oysters are fished and farmed in over twenty locations around Britain. Notable beds are at Colchester, Maldon and Whitstable, and from the Solent to the Fal and the west coast of Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, and around the coast of Ireland. The joy of oysters is that they vary from location to location in flavour and texture, with distinctive flavour notes just as tasting a wine. Each area has an individual nose, body and length of flavour, a mix of saltiness, sweetness, sapid and nutty nuances with vegetal and 10 buttery tastes and textures.

Larger native oysters are more difficult to open and the hinge needs to be broken first to enable a knife to penetrate to the muscle. A whole array of gadgets has been invented over the years to make opening easier, but used with care a simple oyster knife will suffice.

London Oyster Guide  

Colin Pressdee reviews over 150 restaurants, bars, markets, merchants, retailers and producers. Foreword by Charles Campion. To purchase a c...