The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 11.16.04


Sucking 'em up, slurping 'em down

The slurping season has arrived! If you are an oyster lover, you are among the millions who anxiously await the arrival of fresh bivalves from eastern and pacific shores. Get out your shell-shuckers and get ready some large linen napkins for a feast of seaside proportions.

Tradition says that the months that end with 'R' produce the best oysters. This is largely due to the notion that ocean waters are colder in these months and therefore less prone to toxic algae blooms that can have a disastrous effect on any bivalve and humans that consume them.

Iced displays at all major groceries and independent fishmongers are offering oyster varieties that hail from coast to coast and everything you need to help prepare an oyster party is available right in store.

How to Shuck an Oyster

Scrub your oysters first. Lay a damp towel on the counter so you have a good non-slip surface to work on as you shuck.

You will find a point or a hinge at the opposite end of the cup. Take a good sharp oyster knife and insert it in the point. Apply a little pressure and pop it open. Slide your knife under the muscle area of the oyster to free the oyster from its shell. Try not to spill all the heavenly juice and reserve a little in the bottom half of each shell along with the oyster.

How Long Will Oysters Last?

A maximum of one week, I say. If the oysters are not immediately fresh, then only 2 or 3 days are suggested. You can tell when an oyster is going bad. Always make sure the shells are tightly closed. If they have opened the oyster will lose its liquor.

You will know when you have a bad oyster, as the smell is offensive and obvious.

Discard any that do not pass the sniff test immediately. Cover your oysters with a damp cloth and store in an airy place in the fridge if you must. I recommend eating them as soon as you get home from the store.

The subtle flavors of each oyster variety can be distinct and pairing the ideal wine with oysters has always been food for controversy.

Suggestions include Champagne or a good dry sherry. Chardonnay always works well as does any good dry white wine. Just make sure it is chilled appropriately.

You are trying to pair salty and mineral tastes and you do not want the wine to compete too much. Good quality chilled vodka is a great tongue pleaser and seems to provide a perfect match.

I am providing a couple of recipes for sauces to top your oysters with although the possibilities are endless. Feel free to experiment with things like horseradish, wasabi, spiced vinegars, or hot sauces. A simple squeeze of lemon is perhaps the simplest and best of all.

Oysters with a Mignonette sauce

1/2 cup dry white wine
1-tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 shallot, finely chopped
White or black pepper to taste
Salt as needed
24 fresh oysters on the half shell

Place wine and vinegar in saucepan and reduce to one-half. Turn off the flame and stir in the shallot, pepper and salt as needed (remember: oysters tend to be salty). Set aside to steep. As you shuck your oysters, collect their juices and add to the mignonette sauce. Serve the sauce in small dishes or ramekins, letting your guests spoon it on top of each chilled, raw oyster on the half shell.

Oysters with a Tomato Salsa

4 tomatoes cut in very small cubes
3 cloves chopped garlic
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons of pesto sauce (available prepared in jars at grocery)
24 oysters on the half shell

Mix the tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and pesto together. Place a teaspoon of salsa on each oyster and serve.

Montreal Oyster Shooters This drink has become hugely trendy all over the world but Montreal serves up the best, I say. Put an oyster in a shot glass and add a little cocktail sauce, fresh horseradish and vodka. Any spiced vodka such as lemon or jalapeno is perfect for these "appetizers.":