by Bekah Angoff
A big trend on the casual and fine dining scene is composed oysters, which are bivalves piled high with extravagant vinegars, local herbs, inventive gels, various caviars, yolks large and small, and anything else you can possibly dream up. They are often sold as a complete dish, and are seasonally inspired and sculpted to excite more than just your palate. This is a fantastic addition to the way we slurp as new and creative outlets for bivalves are always welcome. However, there is one crucial issue with this trend: the garnish is almost never chosen to pair with the oyster’s unique flavor.
Let’s Start at the Beginning
Flavor is the wonderful result of taste, texture and aroma - simply put. We can truly taste only 5 things: sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and umami (the protein taste). Don’t believe it? Plug your nose while eating a slice of lemon. Gone are the explosive citrus notes, and all you are left with is a sharp sour taste. Let go of your nose and voila – you can tell it’s a lemon again. After taste, our palates recognize texture which changes as you chew. As you chew and the food warms on your tongue and aromas start to become more pronounced. In the case of oyster tasting, this would be the finish. The reason for this is aromas are volatile, meaning they become more pronounced with heat. For example, in order to sample herbs, you rub the leaf between your fingers, releasing the aromatic into the air thanks to our friend friction.
Step 1: TASTE, TASTE, TASTE
Before you even think of an ostentatious presentation for you half shells, we must take into account the oyster itself. As we have explored before, oysters are products of their environment. As they filter nutrients, they are changing and developing their unique and complex flavors. Taste your oyster without anything on it at all and use our handy tasting wheel to help define the total flavor. Not familiar with it? Download it and check out the demonstration video here just to be sure. There are three areas to keep in mind to keep your pairing simple and easy: salt level, texture, aromatic finish.
For this exercise, we used a Kusshi from Baynes Sound, British Columbia: low salinity, soft and springy texture, bright cucumber finish.
Step 2: Complement or Contrast?
In pairing, you can go two ways. You can either enhance certain aromas or textures, or create a contrast to the primary profile. For our Kusshi, the goal is the enhance the signature cucumber aroma while giving a contrast to the springy texture and enhancing the salt content.
Step 3: Choose Your Garnish
Once the goal is in place, choose your ingredients accordingly. In order to increase the salt and add a briny bite to the oyster, we chose a sweeter olive and feta, two elements that have a decent amount of salt. Next to enhance the cucumber aroma, let’s just add fresh cucumber! Now comes the tricky part: texture. To contrast the supple meat of the Kusshi, we need a good solid crunch. This can be achieved by using the cucumber raw and diced, making sure the pieces are not too large.
Step 4: Trial and Error
With the ingredients chosen, it was rounded out to be a riff on a Greek salad, so some minced shallot, olive oil, dried tomato, and fresh oregano were added. Now, while this all sounds great on paper, will it work with the oyster? Cheese and a raw oyster is usually a big NO, but there are no bad ideas in this process! The first round of tasting was not bad, but there was too much olive in the mix, which added a not so pleasant bitter element to the finish. The mixture was adjusted to have less olive in smaller pieces and more cucumber, which ended up being a great balance to the oyster while achieving our goal.
- Do not overcrowd your oyster. There should be enough garnish for effect, but no so much that you barely notice that an oyster is there.
- Play with your plating. By changing a knife cut or ingredient arrangement, you can really take your oyster to the next level.
- Don’t be afraid to break the “rules”. Just as we put cheese on our oyster, there is nothing that is really taboo anymore (well, except maybe oodles of cocktail sauce).
- Play with your location and season. You can always find inspiration from what is around you and the freshest for the time of year.
- Caviar does not go on everything. There are more ways to dress up your oyster than adding an expensive element just because you can.
Click here for the corresponding recipe, and as always, #eatmoreoysters