When Shakespeare wrote “the world’s mine oyster” (The Merry Wives of Windsor), he was alluding to the fact that, as oysters produce priceless pearls, the world is a place from which to extract wealth. Though it’s possible you may find a pearl in your oyster one day, the real riches to be gained from the luscious mollusks lie in their nutritional value.
Oysters contain a potent cocktail of rare vitamins and minerals and are claimed to relieve many serious health problems. They are high in calcium, niacin and iron, as well as being a good source of protein. Omega 3, a fatty acid present in oysters, lowers cholesterol levels. The amino acid Taurine helps lower blood pressure and eases both arthritis and liver complaints. Oysters contain more phosphorous (“brain food”) than any other foodstuff, and they are high in zinc, which is essential for healthy skin, a strong immune system, mental stability and sexual potency.
The cooking rule for oysters is: hardly cook them at all. The most popular way of eating oysters is to consume them raw on the half-shell just as they were eaten in Mesolithic times. The only change is the addition of taste-enhancing condiments such as a squeeze of lemon, a dash of cayenne pepper, a sprinkle of freshly grated horseradish, and the nearly obligatory accompanying pints of Guinness.
Though the American poet Ogden Nash wrote: “I’d like to be an oyster, say, in August, June, July or May,” I’ll continue my dad’s tradition of preparing the first fall oyster stew. As we waited expectantly at table, he warmed the milk until it just began to sizzle. Then he slipped freshly shelled oysters with their salty sweet nectar into the pot, gently stirred them until their edges curled, and added a big chunk of butter. As the golden droplets began to spread across the surface, he ladled the stew into our warmed bowls, passed them round and we dipped our spoons into one of Ireland’s oldest and finest autumn taste treats. May you be so blessed in your home.
Live oysters are best as fresh as possible and should be purchased from a store with good turnover. Reject those that do not have tightly closed shells or that don’t snap shut when tapped. The smaller the oyster is (for its species), the younger and more tender it will be. Fresh shucked oysters are also available and should be plump, uniform in size, have good color, smell fresh and be packaged in clear, not cloudy, oyster liquor. Live oysters should be covered with a damp towel and refrigerated with the larger shell down for a maximum of three days. The sooner they’re used, the better they’ll taste.
24 shucked oysters
1 egg, beaten
1⁄4 cup milk
salt & pepper
1 cup fine bread crumbs
oil for cooking
4 French rolls
Place the oysters in a pot of boiling water and cook for three minutes. Remove, drain and dry the oysters. Beat the egg with the milk and season with salt and pepper. Dip each oyster into the egg mixture and roll in the bread crumbs. Heat fat to frying temperature in a skillet. Fry each oyster for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper. Serve on split and toasted crusty rolls. Makes 4 servings.
(Irish Country Recipes – Ann & Sarah Gomar)
Mrs. Murphy’s Brown Bread
Oysters go great with Irish brown bread and butter. Here’s a simple, fail-proof recipe that Irish America’s editor uses, compliments of her sister-in-law Rita’s mother.
3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup wheat bran
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 cup of sugar
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
pinch of salt
1 egg slightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk
Sprinkle of flax seeds (optional)
In a bowl, mix all-purpose flour, sugar, wheat bran, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in oil and egg. Add buttermilk (if mixture gets too moist add more bran, or too dry add more buttermilk) until dough holds together; it should not be sticky. Turn dough onto a lightly floured board and knead gently 5 times to make a ball. Set on a lightly greased baking sheet or cast iron pan. Pat into a 7-inch circle. With a floured knife, cut a large X on top of loaf. Bake in a 375° oven until well browned, about 40 minutes. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or cool.