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Oysters From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Oysters From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Interesting oyster facts and figures you can't miss if you like this gourmet delicacy from the sea, perfect during holiday meals.

By FDL on

Alive. One of the few animals human beings eat live.

Bélon. The authentic flat oyster, rounded in shape with a hint of hazelnut and a smooth taste that is less briny than that of other varieties. Original Bélon oysters come from the river estuary after which they are named in the French region of Brittany, but the term is also used generically to indicate flat European oysters, considered to be the best in the world.

Crassostrea Gigas. Also known as the Pacific Oyster or Rock Oyster, it is native to the Asian coasts of the Pacific Ocean. Characterized by concave and elongated valves, its taste is somewhat pronounced. In recent years, it has replaced the commercial harvesting of native oysters in Europe and now accounts for more than 90% of French production and three quarters of all oysters harvested in Europe.

Degrees. The ideal temperature at which to serve oysters? Between 4°C and 8°C.

Edible Oyster. Ostrea edulis is the most common variety in Europe. A flat oyster that lives around 50 metres deep, clinging to the rocks around the coast. Along with Bélon oysters with their white meat, the most predominant oyster in Brittany is the Marennes variety which comes from the largest oyster farm in the world, that of Marennes-Oléron. Some have green-coloured meat, owing to the penetration of an alga.

French Way. Crude, accompanied by white wine vinegar, previously marinated with shallots and then strained. A sprinkling of black pepper – if desired – and of course bread and butter, served with Champagne or, better still, an excellent Muscadet: this is the typical French way of serving oysters on a bed of crushed ice.

Gillardeau. Meaty, complex and voluptuous, this species ranks highest in the opinion of French gourmets, together with Fines de Claires oysters. In both cases, the special varieties are preferred to the common ones. All labeled Marennes.

Háoyóu. Also known as “sea milk”, this is the oyster sauce used in Chinese cuisine. It was accidentally created by a Cantonese chef who, having left a pan full of oysters on the stove, discovered that they had turned into a rich and delicious sauce. Shortly after, Mr. Lee Kum Kee founded a company in 1888 to produce this sauce on an industrial scale and it has now become extremely popular in Asian cooking.

Incredibly Old. There is an ancient species dating back 60 million years, of which an individual oyster may even live for several centuries: the Neopycnodonte zibrowii is a type of giant oyster living in a water depth of at least 350 metres and measuring up to 30 centimetres.

Japan. Oyster farming is an ancient tradition in the land of the Rising Sun: in the prefecture of Hiroshima – the country’s number 1 producer – it dates back to 1300 AD., when the cultivation method consisted in the use of branches and sprays of bamboo, to which the oyster larvae would attach themselves. The oysters would then be harvested after two or three years.

Kelly Galway. The oyster species native to Ireland is a close relative of the Bélen, but of wider dimensions. It is the unquestioned protagonist of the Galway Oyster Festival, the oldest celebration in the world of this mollusc and one of the Irish events most appreciated by foreigners, second only to Saint Patrick’s day.

Low Impact. Oyster farming is one of the most sustainable food production methods in the world: it has such a low impact on the ecosystem that it is even allowed in natural marine reserves. There are various oyster culture techniques, from deep-sea cultivation to oyster trays, and many more besides.

Mangrove. The oysters that grow attached to mangroves, of the Creassostrea gasar species, are truly delicious and some enthusiasts claim they are superior to all other varieties.

New York. The highest ranking and most famous oyster bar in the world is the Grand Central Oyster Bar which, ever since 1913 has been located in the Central Station of the Big Apple. It serves up two million oysters every year.

Oyster-tecture. An oyster-based construction used to create barriers aimed at purifying the water and reducing the impact of waves.

Pearl. Pearl oysters of the Pinctada species tend to be large and inedible. However, oysters of the edible Ostreidae species do occasionally generate pearls…

Quiberon. While north Brittany with Mont Saint Michel, characterized by extremely strong tidal currents, is the oyster farming area par excellence, south Brittany is no less active in this respect. Its most famous variety is the Quiberon, a deep sea oyster with firm meat and a taste of iodine.

Raw. Of course, oysters are normally eaten raw. But they can also be delicious when cooked and there is no lack of choice when it comes to cooking methods and seasonings, with plenty of scope for giving full vent to the imagination.

Santa Catarina. To enjoy Brazilian oysters, forget Rio and head south to the Florianopolis coast. The Santa Catarina variety, with its mineral and vegetable accents, is perfect squeezed with lime juice and washed down with a caipirinha.

Terroir. As in the case of wine, the concept of “terroir” or, more precisely, “merroir” is also applied to oysters. According to its merroir, each type of oyster calls for a particular wine, champagne, alcoholic drink or whatever.

Unspoiled. How can you judge the freshness of an oyster? If it does not contain much liquid and if the meat has started to detach itself from the sides of the shell, it is no longer fresh. If the shell is open, then the oyster is dead and has to be thrown away.

Virginia. The Virginia oyster, also known as the Eastern oyster, is native to America. It used to have a high commercial value but now the wild population of this species has been decimated and is rarely cultivated.

Walvis Bay. The eponymous oysters come from this Atlantic bay in Namibia. Enormous in size and not particularly briny, their flavour reveals the rich nutrients provided by these waters. In the last few years, they have become very rare and are considered by gourmets to be a true delicacy.

XXX For centuries and centuries, they have been looked on as the ultimate aphrodisiacal food but a recent scientific research published on Sexual Medical Reviews belies this popular conviction: they simply do not live up to their reputation. Many men, however, would be ready to swear to the contrary…

Year 1872. “In New York City there was more money spent on the consumption of oysters than all other food products combined: New York, before it became the ‘Big Apple’ was the ‘Big Oyster”: declared an oyster expert recently interviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Zinc. Apparently, zinc is the key element responsible for the powers oysters are supposed to have in stimulating the libido: this element is in fact necessary for the production of testosterone.

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