Meaty, juicy oysters from Poole Harbour
New Year calls for a different kind of indulgence: Christmas is all sugar and cheese and general gluttony; New Year is decidedly more sophisticated. Feasting fatigue is setting in—a phenomenon that seemed impossible until this week—but we still want it to feel celebratory. Few things fit the not-filling-but-still-special bill better than oysters—washed down, perhaps, with a glass or two of champagne, as is the French (and utterly chic) way to see in la nouvelle année.
Large as saucers with dramatically jagged, gun-metal grey flecked armour, the Dorset rock oysters found at Shellseekers Fish & Game are as impressive to look at as they are delicious to eat. “Oysters are distinctive to where they’ve come from in the UK, due to differences in the water they grow in,” explains oyster fisherman and chef Pete Miles, Shellseekers’ supplier. “Dorset rock oysters are particularly meaty and juicy, with a good mineral content.
“Poole Harbour, which is where our rock oysters are farmed and our natives—which we also supply to Shellseekers—are fished, is unique in that it has two tides a day. The vast majority of the harbour is shallow and it gets lots of sunshine, which means plankton bloom. The oysters gorge themselves on it. Our oysters are the fastest growing in the country.”
Once perfectly plump, the oysters are harvested and carried a mere three miles up the road to Pete’s purification plant, where they spend 42 hours in a salt solution. “The water is passed through UV light to get rid of any potential nasties—though it’s a formality, really. They’re clean when they come out the sea,” he continues. “It doesn’t affect the oyster at all: it’s a very gentle process, an easy and natural way to clean them.” Once ready, they’re brought to the Market live, fresh as can be.
You can slurp one then and there, straight from the stall, with a dash of lemon, chilli or tabasco sauce or a shallot vinaigrette, or pick up half a dozen to take home. Simply dress them with Market garnishes or if you’re feeling flush, whip up a creamy champagne sauce. “I like them au naturel, but the particularly big ones you see at Shellseekers—they’re about two to three kilos each—those I like to coat with panko breadcrumbs, fry off and treat like an oyster schnitzel. They’re fantastic.”