My reconversion to eating meat after over 17 years of vegetarian life happily co-incided with developments in my career that took me all over the world. I enthusiastically embraced the wonderful opportunities to try new foods everywhere I went. Imagine if almost everything you ate was a ‘first-time’ experience. It was quite wonderful.
As befits a Cancerian, I soon discovered that I especially liked fish and seafood, feasting on giant prawns in the Middle East and Snow Crab in the deep south of the USA. Mussels were (and are) my favourite shell fish. The one step I had yet to take was to eat an oyster. The idea of chewing on the raw, slimy lump was quite repugnant. I was quite sure I could happily live without this particular seafood experience.
Then, one evening in London, I found myself at a book launch event, queueing to approach the sumptuous buffet that was laid out for the guests. Immediately in front of me in the line was Tony Buzan, a famous and accomplished writer and the inventor of the highly-successful ‘mind-mapping’ technique, since used all over the world.
I was quite surprised when this very dapper, highly self-confident man humbly introduced himself. I was even more surprised by what followed.
“Ah!” he said, after the initial exchange of pleasantries. “I see they have oysters! Do you like oysters?”
I confessed that I didn’t really know, and found myself quickly summarising the reconversion story, to which he listened very politely.
“I think it’s high time you tried one. You will never look back. Did you go to the seaside when you were a child?” His voice was quiet, silky.
I told him that I had lived by the seaside.
“Great! So, close your eyes. Imagine you are around 9 years old, playing on the beach. Can you smell the sea?”
I could. I was transported there in an instant. Blue sky and sea, yellow sand, bright colours of deckchairs and umbrellas. Ice creams… and the tangy smell of the sea, permeating everything.
“Now, that was a very happy time, right?” he continued.
“An oyster is the essence of the sea. When it hits your mouth, you will find all those lovely memories exploding in your mind. And everytime you eat another, it will take you immediately to those days of happiness. So, you see, an oyster is much more than a shellfish. It’s a time-machine, among other things!” He was smiling broadly.
By now, we had reached the table, and I noticed for the first time that Mr Buzan was carefully preparing an oyster. He loosened the flesh from the shell with a knife, took a piece of lemon, and squeezed it gently on the oyster. Next, three or four drops of tabasco.
“Are you ready?” he asked. Without waiting for my reply, he passed the prepared shell to me.
Fresh oysters. Like all seafood, they best when you are actually in sight of the ocean
Tabasco sauce. Fresh horseradish sauce is also good
Brown bread, unbuttered and thinly sliced
An open mind
A bottle of well-chilled champagne or very good white wine
If you are opening the shells yourself, get the right tools. Wrap the oyster in a clean towel and take care that you do not injure yourself. It is worth the effort.
Once open, carefully clean away any tiny pieces of broken shell from around the flesh.
Disconnect the flesh from the shell, so that it moves freely.
Squeeze a little lemon juice over the oyster.
Add a few small drops of Tabasco.
Don’t. There are some recipes for cooked oysters, but nothing compares to the raw experience