Winter Ingredient: Oyster

I never like oysters when I lived in Japan. I just could not stand the smell and taste of cooked oysters. However, my family loved oysters, both raw and cooked. Once, when my mother was making fried oysters, I ran out the house so I could breathe. When Japanese people eat fresh oysters, they serve them with ponzu sauce

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(citric vinegar sauce) called “sugaki” which “cooks” the oysters. My discovery of true, fresh oysters was in the United States. I ate them on the half shell without any sauce, and they were sensational. Since then, fresh oysters are my favorite dish. However, I still do not eat cooked oysters or oysters with vinegar sauce.

Winter is Oyster season. Some people say you only eat oysters in R months. In Japan, there is similar proverb, “do not eat oysters after cherry blossom (April)”. It means the best months to eat oysters are January, February, March, April, September, October, November and December. However, you will see oysters all year around in many restaurants. One of the most popular features at summer parties in the Hamptons (New York) is the raw bar (which includes oysters, clams, and shrimp). There actually are summer oysters called Iwagaki, but you will see other oysters in non-R months also.

The most well known Japanese oyster in the United States is the “kumamoto oyster”. The meat is plump and succulent. The flavor is clean, rich and briny. The shell is small but has a deep cup that is fluted and sculptured. Surprisingly, it is not popular in Japan at all. As a matter of fact, there have been no Kumamoto oysters in Japan for the last 50

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years. Hopefully, the Kumamoto oyster will be back at the market this season in Japan.

The history of the Kumamoto oyster is very interesting. 50 years ago, Japanese oyster cultivators started exporting Kumamoto oysters to California, dreaming of growing their businesses. However, Americans discovered that they could cultivate kumamoto oysters in California, which led to cheaper and fresher domestic kumamoto oysters. This caused the disappearance of kumamoto oyster cultivation in Japan. Recently, Japanese people who had eaten Kumamoto oysters in the United States began creating a demand for Kumamoto oysters in Japan. So, the Kumamoto prefecture started cultivating kumamoto oysters and hopefully it will be at the market this season.

How to open oysters: Shucking Oysters

You will need: scrubbing brush, towel or gloves, oyster knife.

Clean oyster with the scrubbing brush and rinse with cold water. Store oyster in ice water until ready to shuck.

Place oyster flat side up on the counter. Holding the oyster with a towel to protect your hand, find the hinge and push the oyster knife into it. Twist the knife from side to side in order to pry the shell open.

Once the shell loosens, slide the knife to the side close to the top roof part of the shell (to not damage the flesh), in order to cut the muscle connected to the shell. Do the same for the bottom part of the shell. Flip the flesh so the plump side is up.

Serve oysters on the half shell on a bed of cracked ice with lemon wedges, cocktail sauce or mignonette sauce.

NOTE: Oysters are opened differently in Japan than they are in the United States. In Japan, they are opened from the side where the muscles are instead of at the hinge at the end.

J-Recipe:

My favorite way to eat raw oysters is as is, with no lemon juice, no cocktail sauce and no ponzu sauce. I enjoy the smell of the sea and the flavor of the milky/briny oyster and seawater. It is heavenly.

But, I have included a recipe for those of you who prefer their oysters cooked.

Grilled Oyster with Yuzu Miso

Serving for 4

4 fresh oysters, shelled and cleaned or canned oysters

Oyster juice from shucking or from the can

2 tablespoons white miso

1/4 teaspoon yuzu juice

1 teaspoon mirin

1. Shuck oysters and clean with lightly salted water. Keep oyster juice.

2. Strain oyster juice and mix with white miso, yuzu juice and mirin in a small bowl.

3. Place each oyster back in a shell and top with miso mixture. Grill the oyster until sauce is golden brown and to your desired doneness.

4. Serve the oysters on a pile of salt to prevent them from sliding on the plate and to protect the plate from scratching by the hard shells.

Copyright © by Mamie Nishide. All rights reserved.