Fish and Seafood | Oysters
Oysters are now such a luxury that it is difficult to believe they were once a poor man's food, consumed with great relish during their heyday throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
Then they were so cheap and plentiful that they were used to fill out steak pies when meat was scarce and expensive. This over-indulgence however eventually led to native oyster beds being almost wiped out.
European native oysters (Ostrea edulis) have since been recognised as an endangered species and are protected by law. As wild oysters disappeared, the price tag rose and their recent revival has depended entirely on cultivating them commercially.
Although there are now some farms experimenting with natives, Pacific Oysters are the most popular commercially as the cold water inhibits breeding, which means they do not retain their eggs. Thus Scottish cultivated oysters can be consumed all year round while the native oyster should not be eaten during the spawning season in summer when they taste less pleasant.
Oysters can change sex, starting as males, then becoming females and switching back again if they so desire. Heralded as an aphrodisiac, Casanova is rumoured to have eaten around 60 a night with his evening punch. Rich in vitamins, minerals and amino acids, they also contain a lot of glucose which provides an instant energy boost, thus perhaps enhancing their sexy reputation.
Although all oysters can produce pearls, the edible oyster belongs to a different family. Pearls are made when an irritant such as a grain of sand becomes entrapped inside the oyster shell. The oyster then repeatedly covers it with a coating of calcium and protein (Mother of Pearl) to relieve the irritation.
Oysters have a strong salty taste of the sea and are enjoyed swallowed raw from the shell with just a sprinkling of lemon juice. They can also be cooked ' try grilling them in their half shells with a little butter.