BarChick spent the day shucking, sucking and loving oysters with the dudes from Wright Brothers, and we’re totally converted. The Wright Brothers cultivate and harvest over 15 million of the suckers a year, so if they can’t teach you how to chat, order and eat like a pro, then no one can.
Some ‘wise’ Englishman from the 16th century once said to only ‘eat oysters in months with an R,’ but people also used to think that Earth was flat, so we’re taking this bit of folklore with a grain of salt. Good news is commercial oyster farms around the world have their health n’ safety game locked down so you can enjoy them year-round. For Pacific oysters, that is. Native oysters are protected by legislation and can’t be fished from May-August. So go wild, but be mindful.
Summertime is spawning season for oysters, which can make the meat a little thin and milky in consistency, but we now live in a time of refrigeration. This means we can counteract. This means we can toss em back until the fat lady sings. Or in this case, a bearded man in a chef’s apron wielding an oyster knife.
Yes and no. BarChick puts a higher premium on age over size: oysters that develop over longer periods of time are said to have more depth & complexity of flavour. Size is more of an aesthetic preference—we like em big… but this may scare the oyster-eating novice. Even though we like cupping our hands around a jumbo oyster and sinking our canines into something real meaty, you don’t have to.
If you’re not ready to go balls to the wall then cool your jets and ask your server for a smaller pacific oyster or something of that ilk: they’re small, they’re sweet and with a dash of Tabasco they pack a real punch. Not enough to knock you out though. Hancock suggests a Jersey, Dungarvan or Frenchman’s Creek (all of which you can find at Shuck) for the virgin. And if you see Kumamoto on any oyster menus, you’re winning. Tiny with a deep cup for all that buttery-sweetness? Ace. Time for Champers.
Oysters taste like the sea. ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ says Robin from Wright Bros, ‘but we are looking for an initially briny hint,’ which he refers to as ‘kissing the ocean’. If you don’t know whether you fancy something briny, mild, sweet or buttery, don’t fret. Tasting loads is the way to figure it out. Then you can use the lingo like a pro. Scroll down for a glossary.
Harvested in the Royal Bay of Grouville, these are a firm favourite of The Wright Brothers. They’re briny, upfront and great for the virgin.
A pacific rock oyster from Dungarvan bay in County Waterford in Ireland with a clean balance of briny and sweet. This is your dessert oyster.
Grown in Cornwall’s Helford River, this Pacific is the Wright Brother’s own. They boast sweet and mineral notes and approximately 5 million a year are cultivated and harvested, so you’re totally sorted. Forever. High meat to shell ratio.
Another Pacific rock oyster, but these sea critters are grown on farms in the Blackwater Estuary in Essex. Expect woody and mineral notes. Available from September-April are their Maldon Natives.
Free-range native oysters from Mersea Island. Highly prized and costly and best enjoyed pure. There will be an assortment of different oysters everywhere you go, so the most significant and general tidbit to take note of is this: is your oyster native or Pacific rock? Natives will obviously vary regionally, so your precious Frenchman’s Creek may not be offered on the California Coast. Be open and take note. This way, you’ll know precisely what you fancy whatever shore you’ve washed up on.
Hot sauce? Lemon? Mignonette? Wasabi? BarChick can be a purist, but we’re saucy too—so, when we wanna dress our oysters, we go to town on 'em. For the novice ‘to really taste the oyster, we recommend trying with nothing on or a few drops of lemon,’ says Hancock. So only after you’ve gone ‘naked’ (nice one) you should start experimenting. Tabasco, mignonette (minced shallots, cracked pepper & vinegar) are both a must.
DO use your eyes: Healthy oysters are fully fleshed out with fat and firm meat; sickly oysters will look thin, watery and snotty.
DON’T just slurp: Mum always said to chew your food and if you wanna know what you’re eating, you better do just that. Two or three times’ll do the trick. This way, you’ll get all the sweetness of the meat.
DO get naked first: eating oysters sans toppings and sauces is essential at first because if you dress it with too much sh*t you’ll mask all the flavor and never really know what you’re ordering. No bueno.
DON’T douse without asking: If you’re sharing with your mates and you drizzle Tabasco and lemon over all the oysters, you may get some raised brows. Ask first.
DO use the lingo: Not only will you always get what you ask for, but you’ll sound like a pro.
DON’T ignore your calendar: Native is for September-April; Pacific is for all year round. Save the date people.
Loosen your tongue & use your words. Here’s how:
Saltiness. If you wanna taste the sea, ask for a briny oyster.
Self-explanatory. No toppings, no fuss. Liquor: This is the natural juice inside the shell. The stuff dreams are made of. Just don’t call it juice. Ever.
This is the buttery or creamy finish.
Cold waters slow down an oyster’s metabolism and produce crispier/sweet bivalves. When waters warm up, oysters become meatier and brinier. Finish: Suss an oyster out like you would a wine. The finish is the taste left on your tongue after you’ve swallowed.
This refers to location. Native oysters are the property of The Crown & found from Cornwall to West Ireland. Sizes & flavors vary. All hail the Queen.
The natural environment in which the oyster is grown. It’s terroir with the t omitted and replaced by an m because it’s referring to the sea instead of the soil. The merroir in which your oyster is cultivated will affect its flavour profile due to different types of minerals and varying levels of salinity in each respective realm of water.
Like most things, oysters taste better when paired with booze. BarChick is all about a Med Snapper made with gin, spice mix, fresh lemon juice, sugar syrup and topped with best quality tomato juice, but there are so many other mega pairings. Or you could cut out the extras and just pour a decent measure of Gin Mare or creamy Black Cow Vodka straight into the shell with your oyster like BarChick does... Trust us. It works like a dream.
More of a beer drinker? No problem. Go for a lager, a porter or an oyster stout: it's a winning combination.
Try to avoid cocktails on the sweet end of the spectrum as they’ll completely overpower the subtleties in aroma and taste of your oyster. But honestly, do what you want; we’re not judging. And if people try telling you to avoid spirits because oysters are rife with protein and minerals and can overwhelm the system, tell them to suck it. It’s a semi-valid point, but we’re all old enough to understand the upshots of binging.
The world is your oyster, baby!
Written by Angela Brussel