John Susman, fish expert
Sydney rock oysters are considered some of the best oysters in the world. Get the most out of them this winter with our tips on how to shuck, store and most importantly, taste them.
Sydney rock oysters are considered some of the best oysters in the world. They come into season in Autumn and are at their peak through the colder months, which is why now is the best time to be serving them.
Interestingly, oysters have something which is known as merroir, which is very similar to terroir - where you can taste in the oyster the flavour profiles of the area the oyster is grown. The best way to taste this is by shucking the oyster yourself, as oysters that are opened at the fish markets are usually rinsed with cold fresh water, removing most of the oyster flavours. When ordering oysters at restaurants, the best way to explore this is to ask where the oyster came from and whether it was dry shucked. This is one of the signs of a good restaurant.
To shuck an oyster, you’ll need an oyster shuck, and the longer pointed ones are the easiest to use. Place the knife (shuck) at the tip on the oyster, where you can see the top shell meets the bottom shell, and wiggle it into the crevasse until you can feel it push though. Then hold the knife flat and run it along the underside of the top shell to release the muscle. It’s important to do this holding the oyster with a tea towel or glove on, as you might need some pressure to push the knife in. Be careful, as it’s very easy to slip the knife, so make sure you’re holding it securely and protecting your hand. Once you do it once, it gets easier.
An un-shucked oyster can last up to 2 weeks out of the water, as it locks its shell and creates the perfect environment to live in. Oysters that are un-shucked should always be kept out of the fridge in an insulated bag in a cool area. You can place a damp cloth on top to keep them moist, but don’t store them in water or the fridge – the cold air will kill them. Once opened, they must be stored in the fridge.
The five flavours of oysters according to fish expert, John Susman
When you open your oyster, there are some flavours you should look for:
This is the oceanic or salty flavour found in oysters, and the first taste you get comes from the water they come from. When an oyster is harvested, it retains salt water to regulate its environment and maintain condition while out of the water. The intensity of the brine is determined by the salinity of the marine environment from which the oyster is harvested. Obviously, oysters that are closer to the oceans will be brinier than those further down estuaries. Tasting profiles include sea spray, fresh asparagus, olives.
You’ll taste creaminess from the middle part of the oyster where most of the flesh is. This quality comes from where the oyster is at in its reproductive cycle and the temperature of the water. Most people like to eat oysters in summer, but many are spawning during the warmer months, so they have a very creamy texture. Think mayonnaise, cultured butter, mascarpone flavours.
This flavour profile comes from the adductor muscle, which is the muscle holding the oyster to the shell. This is the meatiest part of the oyster and the larger the adductor, the more sweetness you'll taste. Also, this will vary the more the oyster needs to open and close in the water. The more the adductor is used, the sweeter it becomes. Here you might find the flavour of cucumber, watermelon, rock melon and green apple coming through.
This flavour sits at the back palate when you eat an oyster. The intensity comes from the concentration of trace minerals left in the oyster, found in the waters the oyster is grown. These complex notes are uniquely found in rock oysters. These flavours can be quite strong, and taste anywhere from metallic to light copper.
This elusive fifth taste is savoury. The umami of the oyster resides in the protein after ingesting organic particles such as dead seagrass particles from its surroundings, which it then takes on. Here you’ll taste nori, seagrass, mushrooms and earthy flavours.
For more information on rock oysters, visit the Narooma Oyster Festival and Appellation Oysters.