The Number of animals eaten alive by humans is relatively small – oysters, small shrimp and monkey brains. Of those the most popular is the mild, minerally-briney-sweet freshly shucked oyster.
For most connoisseurs oysters enhanced with a drop of lemon juice and delicate dry minerally white wine (i.e. Chablis, dry Riesling, sauvignon blanc, champagne or Guinness) is a heavenly experience.
Humans seem to have appreciated oysters for a very long time. Archeologists unearthed massive amounts of oyster shells in northern France dating back 125,000 years.
Greeks were the first to farm oysters in the fourth century B C on submerged pottery shards. But Romans expanded cultivation and improved upon oysters farming techniques.
Rich Romans has become so fond of oysters that they employed slaves in Brittany and later in southern England on their oyster beds.
The harvested oysters were transported packed in compressed snow from England and Brittany to Rome on highways designed by Roman army engineers. Of course they were very expensive. Oysters waned in popularity after the fall of the Roman Empire, but re-emerged during the renaissance 10 centuries later. Historical writings report that Louis XIV ate up to 100 oysters for breakfast.
Native Americans were no stranger to oyster eating, and presented some along turkey to first settlers before the harsh winter set in.
Oysters are versatile. You can eat them just shucked, or broiled, boiled, stewed, sautéed, baked, or smoked. Native Americans dried them for use in long winters.
In the 17th century oysters were so plentiful that slaves got a portion or two almost every day. Some revolted and demanded better food.
Today, oysters are considered to be a delicacy and have become considerably more expensive than everyday food.
While there are still people claiming oysters to be taboo during those months without an “r” in their name, you can confidently enjoy them through the year thanks to refrigeration.
Oysters keep well up to three weeks packed in wet towels stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator, although the best advice to consumers is to buy only as many as necessary for one or two days.
Oysters are prolific and a pair can produce up to 300 million fertilized eggs, but most become prey to other crustaceans or fish.
The larva that survives attaches itself to a stone and grows. Oysters are filter feeders and filter seven to 10 litres of water per hour extracting nutrients. They can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and salinity.
Osyertes beds thrive from PEI to Louisiana, but cold-water oysters are firmer and taste better.
It takes four to seven years for an oyster to reach seven to eight centimeters in length, in cold waters and can grow up to 45 cm. in a century but In warm waters, the growth accelerates appreciably.
Opening an oyster requires skill and power. Placing the oyster cupped side down on a towel and using an oyster knife helps severe the strong adductor muscle easier; this requires a lot of pressure.
There are oyster shucking competitions. Trained shuckers can open ten per minute.
Oysters contain few calories ( ten per oyster) but are rich in iron, copper, iodine, phosphorus, and zinc, and is considered to be an aphrodisiac. Casanova ate as many as 50 a day – who knew?
Wild oysters cost less than farmed ones, as the former require only three stages of handling, whereas the latter eight. They are priced according to size, shape and eating quality.
P E I, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland produce significant quantities, and ship across the country and to the U S A.
Only four species of oysters are consumed on the half shell – Pacific or Japanese oysters, East Atlantic, – European flat and Olympia.
Pacific or Japanese (Kumamoto or Quilcene).
Kamamotos start life in Washington State, then are shipped to Hawaii, then to Monterey in Mexico and finally back to Washington for finishing and harvesting. They taste mild, creamy, and almost buttery in texture.
Quilcene are plump, salty with a sweet finish.
Eastern Atlantic oysters are Malpeque (P E I ), Bluepoint ( New York State), Wallfleet, Fallmouth (Massachusetts), Bras d’or (Nova Scotia). European flat oysters are Belon from Brittany, Portuguese, and Marenne all from France.
Olympia (native to the North American west coast) are small and with an unusual aftertaste.
In Toronto the best place to eat fresh oysters or in many other forms of preparation is Rodney’s on King Street west. His former employees started their own operations recently and have successfully attracted many oyster aficionados.