When I was a kid there were more foods on the ‘don't like list' than the ‘like list.' Fairly typical, I guess.
But something happened as I started to grow up – I began to like more grown-up foods. First, I discovered that good tomatoes were pretty darn good. Then I began my love affair with mushrooms. At some point I learned to appreciate eggs, beets, and all things green. A whole sea of fish and pots full of mussels joined the menu, but there was always one food that I was still not grown up enough for – oysters.
I was drawn to their erotic reputation and the fun adventures where each variety was paired with its very own wine. I was tempted by the sheer fact that this was adult fare that no kid I knew would dare to touch. But try as I might, the taste and texture of oysters created a no-go for me.
And then… I became a mother – twice. I have no idea if my new-found love for oysters was some sort of invisible gate of grown-up-ness that I passed through, or more likely my exhausted and drained body craving the insane nutrition that an oyster has to offer. I'm guessing the latter, but I'm also holding on to the former too.
Health benefits of oysters
Did you know that most traditional cultures strove to eat the whole animal whenever possible?
This was not only to stretch their meals, but also because they knew that the organs of animals are rich in important fat soluble vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Most traditional cultures also revered seafood – often going out of their way to trade for fish.
Turns out that oysters (and similar sea creatures) are one of the easiest and most efficient ways to benefit from eating the whole animal since the animals are so small, and they are relatively easy to gather (compared to a buffalo).
According to Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation:
Oysters are nature's best source of the trace mineral zinc, containing up to almost 100 mg per gram. (Second on the list is ginger root at about 7 mg per gram, followed by beef and lamb at about 6 mg per gram. Zinc in grains and legumes is more difficult to absorb because of the presence of phytic acid in these foods.) As zinc is needed for a healthy prostate gland and for the replacement of seminal fluid, oysters are considered important for male virility. But oysters are important for women as well. Zinc is required for numerous enzymes that aid in reproduction and mental function. Zinc cannot be stored and pregnancy increases the body's requirement for zinc. Oysters are the best way of meeting that need.
Oysters also supply iron, selenium and other trace minerals; fat-soluble vitamins A and D; and the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. The long-chain fatty acids in oysters make a synergistic combination with saturated fatty acids from butter and coconut oil.
It just so happens that the nutrients found in oysters and other shellfish make them an ideal food to build healthy teeth and bones and even reverse dental issues – a concept discussed in detail by Ramiel Nagel in his book, Cure Tooth Decay: Heal and Prevent Cavities with Nutrition.
I can personally attest to feeling less sensitivity in my own chompers shortly after consuming a bowl of steamed clams or a half dozen raw oysters.
Finally, the old wives tales that oysters act as an aphrodisiac have been recently backed up by research when a team of scientists discovered that beyond zinc, shellfish (oysters in particular) are high in rare amino acids that trigger the increased levels of sex hormones in both men and women that help to improve libido.
How to eat oysters
As a former die-hard and now sometimes surfer, to me, eating an oyster is a bit like making love to the sea. Tasting something so intimate, fresh, and personal feels both invigorating and sensual – like being alone on a gorgeous day out on the cool water with a perfect set rolling in just for you. The aftermath of a plate of oysters is akin to leaving the beach after catching the the perfect wave – euphoria.
Smaller oysters are typically a good starting point for newbies. Call me a prude, but I find that large, extra creamy oysters shock me with their boldness. I guess I still have some growing up to do. Some of my recent favorites have been kusshi, kumamoto, and beau soleil, but each variety changes in flavor and texture throughout the season so experiment without getting hung up on any one variety.
Lemon, horseradish, vinaigrette? I suggest only a touch – a tiny veil that leads you into the depths of flavor and sensation.
To cook or not to cook? Personally, I'm a purist when it comes to my oysters, and I love the sharp freshness of a just-shucked oyster. Grilled oysters, baked oysters, oyster stew, and other preparations will still be delicious and nutritious, but I'm my opinion, the taste and health benefits of oysters are best when consumed simple and raw.
How to shuck an oyster
If you are shucking your own, there is a bit of a learning curve when you first start. If possible, find an experienced, veteran shucker to show you the way. Make sure to have a good shucking knife (inexpensive, but necessary), and always take care to protect your ‘holding hand' with a kitchen towel or glove. Skill aside, enjoy the process – your patience and perseverance will be rewarded!
Are oysters a food for the elite?
Yes, indeed, if you show up at a fancy restaurant and buy them for over three bucks a shell, oysters are pricey. But oysters weren't always a rich man's food, and even now you can find secret spots that sell oysters for every man.
For those with a sense of adventure and a proximity to the sea, you may even try your hand at harvesting your own – just make sure you have the appropriate license for your foraging spot and make sure you only harvest oysters from unpolluted waters.
Got a favorite local oyster shack near you?
Please share it in the comments below!
Organ Meats. Mark'sDailyApple.com
Pearly Wisdom: Oysters are an Aphrodisiac. www.smh.com.au.
Fallon, Sally. Oysters. WestonAPrice.org