Oysters aren’t just the trendy food du jour, they’re also fabulously good for you
By Jen Jones Donatelli
Like it raw? You’re not alone. If the growing number of oyster-centric restaurants like L&E Oyster Bar and Blue Plate Oysterette are any indication, Los Angeles has reignited its love affair with this said-to-be-aphrodisiac seafood delicacy.
“I’ve been cooking 25 years, and oysters are a food that have always seemed to wax and wane in popularity,” says Sascha Lyon, head chef at the W Hollywood’s Delphine, which hosts themed “Raw Bar Mondays” weekly. “Right now, oysters seem to be very trendy—the craze has definitely been reinvigorated.”
In light of the renewed interest, other local restaurants are also seeking new ways to entice oyster aficionados. When Japanese restaurant Katana debuted a slew of new menu items this spring, Hama Hama Oysters with Tomato Gelee and Caviar were front and center. At Public Kitchen in Hollywood, a special champagne and oyster menu is now offered on Tuesdays, while new downtown restaurant Little Bear pairs Belgian craft beers with inventive oyster dishes like po boys and Gougere sliders. And several hours north, almost 4,000 adventurous epicureans descended on Morro Bay for the first annual Central Coast Oyster Festival in June.
Like caviar before it, the oyster has arrived.
And here’s why it matters: they’re among the healthiest types of shellfish available. Along with seafoods like tilapia and trout, oysters carry the lowest-level risks for mercury contamination; they also contain protein and an impressive range of vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. “Not only are oysters low in calories, but they’re also a nice source of B12, zinc and calcium,” says registered dietitian Katie Chapmon, who works with Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles. Translation? Better energy and improved brain and nervous system function (thanks to B12), stronger bones (from high calcium content), and a healthy boost for testosterone production (courtesy of zinc—and hence the aphrodisiac reputation).
According to Chapmon, oysters are also a smart choice for those trying to stay heart-healthy. Says Chapmon, “Compared to shrimp, lobster and crab, which can be high in cholesterol, oysters are a yummy choice for those watching their cholesterol or saturated fat intake.”
Of course, not all oysters are made equal—it’s important to ensure that raw oysters are served fresh and free of potentially harmful bacteria. Among the numerous telltale ways to spot a bad oyster are a rotten smell and/or insides that are cloudy or discolored (rather than clean and white). “When you open an oyster on the half-shell, there should be water sitting inside and no dry edges,” says Dwight Maloney of Morro Bay Oyster Company, which sources oysters to LA restaurants like Hungry Cat and L&E Oyster Bar. “If not, send them back in a hurry.”
The good news is that oysters sourced from Pacific Ocean coldwater are typically fresh year-round and much less likely to harbor bacteria than those from certain parts of the East Coast. (Maloney says the old adage about oysters only being good in months ending in ‘r’ doesn’t typically apply out West.) “The cooler the water, the stronger the minerality and the brinier the oyster will taste,” says Lyon of Delphine. “On your palate, it tastes like the cleanest ocean water you could ever have.”
And fittingly so—as the filter-feeding nature of oysters actually helps make surrounding waters cleaner and a more sustainable habitat for other sea creatures by removing bacteria and sediments. “Water is cleaner after it passes through the oyster beds than before it enters,” says Maloney. “The more oysters you have in a bay, the cleaner the bay will be.”
So there’s no good reason not to enjoy these salty seafood treats, which, like wine and cheese, take on the properties of their surrounding terroir (some oyster lovers have dubbed it merroir). “When you eat them, it’s a complex experience in the mouth, and it’s an experience that should be relished every single time you do it,” says Lyon. “Spending a few hours eating oysters and drinking champagne—to me, that’s what an afternoon is all about.”
The Fukushima Factor
Are radioactive emissions from Fukushima reactors a concern when it comes to oyster consumption? Possibly, says Dr. Isaac Eliaz. Last year, radioactive cesium was detected in bluefin tuna that had migrated from Japan to Southern California, and seaweed collected along the West Coast was also found to contain radioactive iodine. “Radioactive isotopes can travel quickly via ocean currents, jet streams and weather patterns, meaning we can continue to see the effects of such contamination in our environment,” says Dr. Eliaz, a Sebastopol-based doctor who specializes in detoxification of heavy metals and radioactive particles.
Though experts say the radiation levels are well below those that are unsafe for humans, Dr. Eliaz recommends that seafood lovers still take safety precautions. “Don’t be shy to ask your seafood supplier where their oysters are from, and whether they do any testing for trace particles,” he says. Consuming modified citrus pectin, medicinal mushrooms (like Ganoderma and Cordyceps), and the antioxidant glutathione (found in whey protein, garlic and dandelion) can also combat any effects of radiation damage.
Designed by Sascha Lyon, Delphine
12 Malpeque oysters
Fine-diced red pepper
Fine-diced yellow pepper
Fine-diced red onion
Juice of one lemon
2T chopped cilantro
Combine all ingredients. Allow to marinate for one hour. Spoon 1/4 tsp on top of each freshly shucked oyster.
Oysters with Lemongrass Cream and Caviar
Designed by Sascha Lyon, Delphine
12 Kumamoto oysters
1/2 pt heavy cream
1 stalk lemon grass crushed
1 tsp gelatin powder
Black caviar of choice
Steep the lemon grass in cream. Add bloomed gelatin and blend well. Pass through fine sieve into glass dish; chill for four hours. Spoon 1/2tsp cream over freshly shucked oysters. Top with as much caviar as you like.
Oysters with Tabasco Tomato Granité and black pepper
Designed by Sascha Lyon, Delphine
12 Hama Hama oysters
2 farmers market big beef tomatoes
2tsp aged sherry vinegar
Tabasco (to taste)
Black peppercorns freshly cracked
Purée tomatoes and let rest in sieve lined with cheesecloth in refrigerator overnight until all tomato water has drained. Discard pulp. Add enough Tabasco to tomato water so that it tastes very spicy and the Tabasco flavor is very present. (It will mellow out during freezing.) Pour into shallow dish and place in freezer. Once frozen, scrape with a spoon. Top freshly shucked oysters with granité and sprinkle with freshly cracked pepper.
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