Cooking With Oysters: Easy Tips from a Chef

A festival celebrating oysters might be unusual for a town in the middle of a semi-desert, but this spring saw the crustacean front and centre in the 3rd Annual Osoyoos Oyster Festival.

Oysters can be a gamble for reluctant palates and preparing them well is a mystery for us non-chefs. What can eager home cooks do to mitigate their oyster risks? The April 22 communal table at Miradoro Restaurant offered an ideal opportunity to slurp and sip into research mode – and the kitchen team, led by sous chef Orlin Godfrey, was happy to share a few tips.

Shucked oysters from Jon at Codfathers

choose wisely

“Oysters need less than a one-day trip”, says Godfrey. “And they should be fully closed.” If you don’t live close to the ocean, get to know a fishmonger like Jon Crofts of Codfathers in Kelowna. Jon and Codfathers have a solid reputation for providing fresh seafood, and they go to great lengths to keep it that way. With oysters you get what you pay for, and what you’re paying for here is trust, sustainable fishing practices, and decades of specialized experience. Splurge a little.

 

don’t overthink it

Oysters are small, delicate things in a seemingly tough shell. The packaging can be deceptive: finesse over force wins every time. If your knife skills are better than mine, try shucking the oyster: gently pry the shell open with a small blade, then run your blade under the fleshy part to separate the meat. “Avoid eating them raw, unless they’re super fresh (less than 24 hours harvested)”, advises Godfrey. “Fresh is always best.”

 

don’t overdo it

Keep in mind there isn’t much meat. When using a batter, the oyster’s ready when the batter is “GFD”, says Godfrey with a grin (GFD means “golden f’ing delicious”). While working in Vancouver he cooked a substantial amount of seafood. “My favourite is tempura,” says Godfrey. “The outside is crispy, but the oyster is firm and flavourful.” Timing depends on the size of the oyster, so GFD status varies. Keep watch and all will be fine.

 

With foods as rich as oysters, simple sides are the goal: Caesar salad (sans anchovies) work well with the briny salt flavours, or experiment with textured rough greens and light but creamy dressings. Food served with oysters often doesn’t reach mealtime spotlight, so relax and have fun.

The Miradoro back-of-house team-2
Oyster paella

Eating raw oysters can be an acquired taste. Admittedly, it took me several years to appreciate a freshly shucked oyster sliding down my throat. The instinct is to chew, but resist – you’ll be rewarded with a lingering taste of the sea that can transport even the most land-locked to distant memories of salt air and strong tides. If raw isn’t for you – and many of us don’t have the confidence of a fishmonger to regularly shuck fresh oysters or the palate to appreciate them – there are ways to ease into oysters.

 

Shucked

Serve on the shell with hot sauce (for a kick), lemon (the classic), or with a mignonette (French style) – a vinegar-based accompaniment that can include minced shallots, bay leaves, peppercorns, and sometimes champagne. Pair with Tinhorn Creek 2013 Pinot Gris.

 

Po’ Boy

Dredge through cornmeal, deep (or pan) fry until GFD, layer on a baguette with mayonnaise, lettuce, and heirloom tomato. Pair with Tinhorn Creek 2013 Gewürztraminer.

 

Grill

Place entire oyster in shell on barbecue or grill. Oysters are cooked when shells open. Tuck in, and serve with cold Sapporo.

 

In the culinary world, love for the oyster is best expressed by a simple sentiment echoed by all in this kitchen: “make friends with oysters.” I think I just did.

Written By:

Jeannette is EAT's Okanagan writer. With her rural Canadian roots and love of grand experiences, Jeannette is equal measures country and city. Since moving from Vancouver to the Okanagan in 2007, she quit her day job ...

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