Food Court: The case for and against oysters

For Food Month, Irish Times writers and well-known faces make the case for and against common - and not so common - foods. Vanessa Greenwood loves the slippery shellfish, while for Gary O’Hanlon they bring back bad memories

 

FOR: Vanessa Greenwood
It’s not just the taste of the sea in every mouthful that makes me love oysters, it’s the traditions and ceremony surrounding how they are served which add to the pleasure in eating them.

They used to remind me of the glamour of strolling past brasseries on Parisian boulevards where men still stand in aprons shucking oysters to eat straight from their shell with a simple mignonette sauce.

Nothing could be more fresh and wonderful. The French nurture their passion and appreciation for these salt water bivalves by exposing their children to oysters from a young age, removing any squeamishness surrounding eating something raw.

Now that Irish people are taking notice of the world class oysters being harvested along our Atlantic coast, in pristine waters, I would love to get more people to taste them. Once you try it you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the thrilling sensation as the cool oyster slinks down your throat with a fresh salty after taste.

Like taking a dip in the sea, you’ll be hooked!

AGAINST: Gary O'Hanlon
So you’re 10 years old and your buddies are heading to play football in Swilly Park but your auld boy decides it’s work time, so it’s on with the wellies, three or four layers of clothes and the warmest hat you can find, and off to the shores of Lough Swilly with your bucket you go.

Nightmare. It’s oyster season and there’s money to be made. The best restaurants in France want our fresh wild Irish oysters. I pray they all have slow deaths. Ironically enough, I was to become one of those hated chefs.

I’ve always associated oysters with the worst of times. Truth be told now though, looking back, they were the very best of times. Gathering wild oysters is no easy job. North Atlantic winds skinning you, knee deep, and once you get your wellies full of sea water, be ready for a long day. If, after enduring even one of those days, you still love oysters, I’ll be calling you a liar.

Many people shout from the heavens about the flavour, and there’s no doubting the richness and sweetness, but it’s the texture where I fall down. I simply cannot get past the sickening feeling of an oyster in my mouth. The thought of letting one slide down my throat is nearly making me gag as I type.

I’ve only ever had one, believe it or not. It was in my good friend Frankie’s An Port Mór in Westport. I arrived late for a lunch with 25 other Euro-Toques chefs and the amuse-bouche was an oyster.

Everyone watched on as I was handed mine. I didn’t think it was the right time to tell most of my peers that I’d never had an oyster before, so I gulped it down, told everyone it was lovely then went to the bathroom and almost threw it up.

The first and the last.

Vanessa Greenwood is the co-owner of Cooks Academy in Dublin. Gary O’Halon is executive head chef at Viewmount House in Longford. They write the Two Ways With column in the Irish Times Magazine

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