When I first started cooking in Australia, I was highly impressed with the diversity and regionality of all its produce, but the one product that stood out was the quality and variety of oysters. I was well versed with the best oysters in the UK after five years working at Quaglino’s in London, but eight years later, I’m still discovering new and unique varieties of oysters and artisan producers that thrill us and our customers in Australia.
There are three main species of oysters we use at the Albert Park Hotel: rock, Pacific and wild native flats. Each oyster species, depending on which region it was produced in, has a different taste and texture. No one variety will taste the same. Often a different oyster variety’s flavour is mistaken for the oyster being inferior. Not all Pacific oysters, for example, will taste the same. The taste of an oyster depends on the conditions where it was produced; its temperature, tide, wind conditions, purity and coastline. So it is important to know which species you like, be it rock, Pacific or native flat, then which state and region you most enjoy.
Ask your seafood supplier for the actual varieties and regions of their oysters. Try several and get to know which region and species you enjoy the most. It is all about personal taste. Oysters in Australia are world class! Don’t accept pre-shucked and poorly labelled oysters – an oyster is not just an oyster, just like a bottle of wine is not just a bottle of wine. Each have their own charm, taste and character.
The best way to serve oysters is to keep it simple and make sure the oysters are absolutely fresh, their lids tight and the oysters heavy because they are lively and full of juice. You will need a professional oyster knife, a clean thick tea towel and a reasonably strong wrist action. One of our most talented oyster shuckers is chef Louise Hadlow, who has a tiny feminine frame. She will tell you that it’s not brute force that will open an oyster successfully, but the correct positioning of the knife and how you handle the oyster. Don’t forget that an oyster is a living creature and if you shake it around it will become tense and lock down, so handle them with respect.
Wrap each oyster in a cloth to avoid any damage to your hands, position your knife just angling the point in between the lid and the base there is a small groove (like a keyhole area), place the knife in firmly so it is stable and secure, then simply twist upwards and the knife will click open the oyster. Have a sieve which fits tightly over a bowl close by so you can strain off the precious juices. Angle the knife upwards away from the meat and gently slide across, removing the lid. Tip the oyster over the sieve once more to release all its juice, wipe away fragments of shell that appear around the oyster. Now carefully loosen the oyster by sliding your knife underneath to release if from its firm white muscle attached to the shell. Some would advise to turn over the oyster for cosmetic reasons – honestly!
Once loosened, serve straight away on crushed ice if possible. Chilled oysters, like champagne, do taste better. Top with the strained juice and serve with lemon and mignonette sauce.
As a chef, I too recognise the essence of great cooking is to respect excellent produce and its perfection, and a great oyster served naturally certainly reflects that statement. However, I wanted to give you an oyster recipe that our chefs have enjoyed preparing and our customers and oyster lovers have enjoyed eating.
Citrus Infused Mignonette Sauce
300ml Chardonnay vinegar
Zest of 6 lemons, finely chopped
Zest of 6 limes, finely chopped
Flesh of 12 native finger limes (can substitute with regular limes)
150g shallots, very finely chopped
Combine each ingredient except shallots, add just before serving over crushed ice.