Bivalves a product of their environment, and an experience all their own
I have a very fond memory of tasting my first oyster. A girlfriend and I decided to drive the two and a half hours to Toronto to seek out the venerable oyster bar, Rodneys Oyster House, to celebrate, well, the joy of eating and drinking. It was a little tricky locating the unassuming, port-holed door on industrial Adelaide Street East. Found, it led down to a small, dimly lit room with a long bar propping up well-dressed suits late on a Friday afternoon. We snagged the last two seats at the kitchen end of the bar and ordered our first dozen oysters.
My friend, having gone to chef school, was a pretty good person to initiate me into the nuances of eating a raw oyster but it also helped that the shucking bartender took a shine to Jenn and didnt hesitate to offer his own pointers on success.
The dozen arrived in front of us, two each of different types of oysters, with varying pearly shades, neatly piled atop crushed ice on the half shell. With a gesture stolen from Vanna White, our bartender pointed out the array of condiments available to us but, whispering behind the back of his hand, he said that the oysters are best enjoyed au naturel.
With little else to procrastinate the deed and with two pairs of eyes riveted to my face, I lifted the smallest specimen from the platter, placed the shell delicately on my lower lip and tipped my head back, slipping the oyster with its liquor neatly into my mouth. Chewing, as I had been instructed was the "proper way," my mouth filled with a briny, salty taste as fresh as if I were standing atop the crashing ocean waves with my face to the wind. I was hooked. We ordered a bottle of Muscadet and proceeded to gorge ourselves on the bivalves well into the night.
I am not sure if it was Jenn flirting with the bartender or my restaurant connection when we were introduced to Rodney himself, but our wine glasses were never empty and we ate plates and plates of oysters, but the bill was a very reasonable hundred bucks.
Oysters are unique. It is one of those foods that you either love or hate. Oysters have been loved for thousands of years. They were eaten in large quantities by the Romans, Celts and Greeks. The Greeks began raising oysters in oyster beds. Today most oysters are professionally farmed by dedicated, patient farmers. In North America, there are three species of oyster that are commercially harvested; the Pacific oyster (or Japanese oyster) found along the Pacific seaboard, the Atlantic oyster (or eastern oyster) and the Olympia oyster which is native to Washingtons Puget Sound. Atlantic oysters are smaller than their Pacific cousins (which can grow up to a foot long) and are considered to be culinarily superior in texture and flavour. Incidentally, it was an Atlantic Malpeque oyster that I first sampled and when I tried a large B.C. oyster after the small P.E.I. delicacy it reminded me of chewing on an oil tanker.