Top shucker tells Metro what to do with sea delicacy
John Sylvester photo
Oysters are a delicacy that most people love to indulge in — but they don’t agree with everyone’s tastebuds.
The one thing that normally turns people’s stomachs at the sight of these slurpy appetizers is they’re eaten raw.
In fact, John Bil, Canada’s three-time National Oyster Shucking Champion, says that’s what probably puts off many people from even trying them.
“When people say to me that they had an oyster and they didn’t really like it, I ask them what kind of oyster it was,” says Bil, vice-president of the 11th annual PEI
International Shellfish Festival, which takes place next month. “Oysters from the East Coast and the West Coast taste completely different, but if it wasn’t fresh enough, then there’s no way they could have enjoyed it.”
People often don’t know how to pick oysters, so they end up with something that’s not bad, but not good, either.
Bil says to pick the perfect oyster, make sure they’ve been kept on ice, they’re tightly closed, are fairly heavy and only have a very fresh smell of the sea. Looking for the harvest date is also a good place to start.
“If they’re coming from the East Coast in the fall, they’re fine out of the water for about three weeks,” Bil says.
“If it’s from the west coast and the harvest date is more than about a week, it’s probably not that great of an idea to pick those up — you might find a lot of dry ones, and if it doesn’t have a lot of that natural seawater, the texture and the taste is going to be a little bit off.”
If you’re being served oysters in a restaurant, there should be basically no shell, there should be some natural seawater in the oyster, the meat should be typically very creamy in colour, and very opaque. But if the meat is translucent or see-through, then that’s a bad sign.
So, how do you know if you’ve had a truly bad oyster?
“There’s no mistaking a bad one. You open it and it’s like, ’Oh, man, that’s a bad oyster.’ It’s quite obvious in taste, smell, texture. When it’s bad, it’s bad,” he says.
Though oysters are typically eaten raw, you can cook them — just not for very long.
If you do decide to cook oysters, Bil suggests rolling them in a very light cornmeal with some herbs, and quickly pan fry them for about 30 seconds on each side, just to crisp them up and serve with some handmade mayonnaise.
You can also broil them with a bit of herbs and butter, and you can poach them in butter and fresh tomatoes.
In terms of drinks to accompany oysters, Bil suggests a Sauvignon Blanc with the east critters and a dry Riesling with west.
“You just want to enhance the taste of the oyster and not overwhelm it,” he says. “The wine acts like a sauce with the oyster — that’s all it really is.”
For more information, visit?www.keeponshucking.com.
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