How to eat oysters for the first time & convince everyone you’re a pro

4 March 2019
By Fashion Quarterly

Oyster eating for dummies: Consider this your crash course in eating oysters like a well-seasoned pro when you’ve never done it before or just can’t stand the taste…

If you aren’t a fan of oysters but see the rest of us slurping them back with glee and want in on the fun, executive head chef of Nourish Group, Gareth Stewart has some advice for how to become an oyster fan.

“For people who don’t like oysters, they probably don’t like them for either of two things.  Texturally, they’re a bit different in the mouth. And the flavour – so when the oysters are opened up fresh, literally a couple minutes before serving them, they’re delicious. There’s no doubting it. They are absolutely stunning.”

  • “I would always try and push for freshly opened oysters. ‘Cause you go to some restaurants where they’re not freshly opened and that’s the difference.”
  • “Also, lemon and tabasco sauce; try and kill some of that fishiness and add a bit of spice which always helps.”
  • “Try cooked first and work yourself into a little bit of raw now and again.”

Think of oysters with batter and toppings as gateway oysters. You’ll be a fan in no time. If not, there’s more for the rest of us.

It’s Bluff oyster season – head down to Princes Wharf restaurants to enjoy the delicacy ocean-side.

Why are people so obsessed with oysters in New Zealand?

As a subtropical island, there is really no better place for oysters; we’re surrounded by cool coastlines ripe for oysters to latch onto. However, in all that 15,000 km of coastline, we only have two species of oyster. There are dredge oysters – bottom dwelling oysters that thrive in Bluff, and there are rock oysters – larger oysters that grow up and down the country.

Because Pacific oysters don’t spawn in the warmer water, they don’t get as creamy as the Bluffs and have a firm, briny, salty flavour.

Crucially, our water is clear and clean so that the 80-odd litres of water that each oyster filters each day is free of pollutants and contains only the phytoplankton that the bivalves feed on. Oysters can hold toxins in their flesh, so their home far away from the rest of the world helps Bluff oysters earn their place as a coveted delicacy: they’re big, they’re creamy and so packed with flavour that they really are too good for anyone who doesn’t love them.

It’s Bluff oyster season – head down to Princes Wharf restaurants to enjoy the delicacy ocean-side.

Interesting bragging points about oysters you probably didn’t know before now

Getting the oysters from Waiheke and Coromandel isn’t particularly difficult – but the 1,663km journey from Bluff is a bit of a logistical nightmare.

The oysters need to be transported fast, cold and right side up (if you keep them upside down, their juices leak out, they die and spoil.) “If they’re stored upside down then all the juice comes out and they die,” laments Stewart. “If they’re kept in a cup with the lid on top and stored like that then they’ve got three to four days in the fridge.”

The third transport option for oysters is pre-shucked and in a pottle with eleven of their mates. They are shucked in Bluff and put into pottles, frozen then shipped to Auckland to be served on shells that are shipped up alongside them.


Okay, so how do we make oysters taste better?

Both varieties will be available natural, Kilpatrick or Tempura, and though Stewart sings the praises of a fresh-shucked natural oyster, Euro’s all you can eat festival opener’s iteration of Kilpatrick is “slightly different. We refine it a bit,” says Stewart. “We’ll confit the shallots in butter and they’ll go on top of the oyster along with Worcestershire sauce, cracked black pepper, we’ll crisp up some pancetta lardons and we’ll finish it off with a little parfait crumb.”


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And the tempura? Stewart reckons that especially to match with beer; you can’t go past a battered oyster. “Oooof, there’s nothing like a lightly battered Bluff oyster with a nice lil’ aioli or gribiche dressing – it’s just stunning.”

We can’t argue with that.


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What are the best drinks to chase your oysters with?

Around 70 million years ago, the Champagne region was under water. Earthquakes around 10 million years ago brought that salty, mineral-rich, chalky soil to the surface so that the soil drains well, the grapes absorb a hint of ocean flavour and your glass of bubbly has a slight hint of the sea in it. So oysters and champagne are a match made in heaven. Or, more accurately, the sea.

Stewart’s take? “Champagne goes with anything. Champagne goes with everything. It’s delicious.”

When the Glenmorangie whisky distillery in Scotland decided to tackle the organic barley waste they were releasing into the Dornoch firth, they decided to reintroduce the oysters that had been fished to extinction over 100 years ago. The filter-feeding shellfish feed off of the barley particles and also make the firth more hospitable for themselves by cleaning the water. The partnership works just as well in a restaurant. “It kind of cures the oyster,” says Stewart. “There’s a lot of sugar in whiskey and that salty-sweet number seems to work. People get a bit of whiskey and pour a little bit over the oyster and let it marinate and then knock it back. Stunning.”

Whiskey fans have been known to finish off by drinking from the shell to get the most from the pairing. And we are all about getting the most from our oysters.

The lazy sommelier’s favourite drink – a chilled, dry rosé goes with pretty much everything. “Rosé goes with most things, right? Certainly on a hot day when you’ve got a nice cold rosé. No better way to match that than a dozen freshly shucked oysters.”

One beer being served at the festival is a famously hoppy Emersons. And that bitterness works well with an oyster – if it is prepared right.“We’ve done a dego – Emmersons and beer nights. So we’ll serve oysters five or six different ways and match it with the different types of beer. Like the stout which is a really good match, and the pilsner. Pilsner and seafood is great so with the pilsner, we’d probably batter them more so that the crisp batter with the beer really works.”

Having discovered the combination in a Melbourne restaurant, Stewart’s must-try beverage match recommendation is sherry – the sweet, fruity flavour goes down a treat with the sea-flavoured oyster. He too was sceptical at first, but he assures us it packs a punch. “Sherry is a beautiful match. A little dry sherry…They said would you like to try it with sherry and I said ok and it worked. It really worked. That sweetness and the salty really go together. ”

Ready to put your money where your mouth is?

Last year, the Princes Wharf Oyster Festival shucked through 62,000 of the briny treats – more than three times the Bluff oyster festival’s yearly takings of around 20,000. And they’re looking to beat that number this year.

The month-long festival heralds the start the March-till-August Bluff oyster season and will see Euro, The Culpeper, Coley & Punch and The Crab Shack host an all-you-can-eat extravaganza, a five-course champagne lunch, an oyster and music festival, a seafood boil up, and an oyster and whiskey masterclass among other events.

Princes Wharf Oyster Festival
143 Quay St, CBD, Auckland
Friday 1 March – Sunday 31 March 2019
More Information

Words: Alex Blackwood
Photos: Supplied, Instagram

This article originally appeared on Noted. It has been edited for the Miss FQ site. 

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