There are few things that irritate me more than people who describe seafood as tasting "like the sea". Tasting "of the sea", ever generous spirited that I am, I might allow (just), but "like the sea"? Why on earth would anyone ever find such a description appealing? It's like when food bores describe lamb as tasting like grass. Now I'll admit to having eaten a handful of grass or two in my time (as an experiment to prove it wouldn't make me sick, despite my mother's insistence that it would. I wasn't sick. But I did feel a bit queazy for a while afterwards. Still... Victory was mine!). And I'm here to tell you, grass tastes absolutely nothing like lamb. Flavour-wise and texture-wise, lamb and grass are polar opposites on the taste spectrum. Likewise, and thankfully, seafood does not taste like the sea. If it did, it probably would make us all sick, as everybody knows what salt water can do (especially if your ears, like mine, held witness to the results at school when waiting outside toilet cubicles which contained the sad, pretty young skinnies who sipped from flasks of the stuff all day long in the hope that it would aid them to getting skinnier still). Sea water is revolting and unless you are of a particularly demented nature, you won't want anything on your dinner plate to taste like it. I think people use the expression to mean that the seafood tastes fresh, as if it has only just been hauled out of the sea. Fresh is definitely a good thing in relation to seafood, otherwise you yourself might begin a similar relationship with the toilet bowl as those poor little sixth formers locked in toilet cubicles.
Oysters are particularly frightening to anyone who has been put off seafood by others insisting it tastes like the sea. I've only had fresh-pick-them-off-a-plate-of-ice-prise-them-open-and-shove-them-down-your-pie-hole-oysters once, and they did taste a bit like sea water. Cold, fleshy sea water. I was advised to squeeze a lemon wedge over the top and add a dash of Tabasco and, though marginally more tolerable, they still tasted like cold, fleshy sea water - only this time with the addition of lemon and Tabasco. Although I'm sure raw oysters have a texture and flavour you can grow to love with practice, I'd rather find tastier morsels to spend an arm and a leg on instead.
Baked oysters on the other hand, I have a lot of time for. They have a velvety texture with a sweet, salty and delicate flavour. They are, however, an absolute bugger to open. Especially if you don't own a special oyster knife (I don't) and don't eat them often enough for it to be worth buying one (I don't).
To open them, you have to find the point where the two shell halves meet - no easy feat in itself - push your knife in with some force and then twist the blade until the shell pops open a tiny bit. Once you've done that (and well done if you've managed to get this far with a little paring knife) you need to slide the blade upwards into the shell to cut the adductor muscle which holds it shut. Please be very careful. It's very easy to lose your grip and plunge the knife into your thumb - as I did - or even to cut yourself on the oyster shells; they are much sharper than you'd imagine. I wish I'd bought some gardening gloves, or something similar, to grip on to them with and provide my hands with a bit of much needed extra protection. They took so much longer to open than I'd imagined that I was delighted that our guests were nearly an hour late. Thanks to Dolly and Olly for getting lost on their way, I had plenty of time to stab at the shells and bandage myself up afterwards for accidentally stabbing myself too. Don't be too put off by the dangers, they are quite delicious and very much worth the effort (and almost worth the bloodshed too).
Oven baked oysters
Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 180°C fan
2 - 3 fresh oysters per person as a modest starter
1 - 2 garlic cloves, minced
2 oz. 50 g soft, unsalted butter
Flat leaf parsley, chopped
A few chives, finely chopped
A dash of Tabasco
A generous squeeze of lemon plus wedges to serve
Salt and pepper
Open the oysters as detailed above and discard the empty half shell, leaving each oyster on its remaining half shell. Mix all of the ingredients (except the oysters) together so you have a lovely flavoured butter. Simply blob a teaspoon's worth of butter on to each oyster, still in its shell and pop them on to a baking tray and into the oven for 5 minutes. Serve immediately with a lemon wedge.