I did something really stupid yesterday.
I bought some oysters that my fishmonger had on special offer. They were the cheapest oysters I have seen for a while and I just couldn't resist them.
No, I didn’t spend the night communing with the toilet bowl. They were perfectly fresh, in fact they were humungous, meaty and juicy.
The stupid thing was the addition of tabasco.
I’m no oyster purist. A splash of ponzu is terrific – it's umami punch works well with all seafood; mignonette (shallot and vinegar reduction) is good once in a while too.
Poaching is a great way to add body to smaller oysters – Marco Pierre White’s warmed oysters with cucumber, caviar and champagne sauce was deservedly iconic – and cooking oysters can also help the oyster phobic overcome their squeamishness about eating a living bivalve that looks a bit like something a 20-a-day B&H smoker would cough up on his way to the bathroom in the morning.
At chef school, a visiting chef from Ledoyen showed us a great recipe in which you lightly poach oysters in their own, strained juice, then reduce the juice, added a little cream, sweat some julienne of leek, then pop the oysters back in their shells, add the sauce and top it with the leeks. It's a stunning recipe, guaranteed to impress even the most jaded oyster lover.
That said, in the improbable event of someone holding a gun to my head and demanding to know which way I prefer my oysters, first of all I would swiftly disarm them with a leg swing and karate chop to the throat, dust myself off and straighten my tie, Roger Moore-style, and tell them that, actually, just a little squeeze of lemon will be fine and, sorry, but I mistook your hand-held electronic ordering device for a gun, and perhaps you shouldn’t stand so close to diners when taking orders in future.
What I am trying to say is, why the tabasco? I suppose I was in a free-wheeling, care-free, spring fever experimental mood; had a vague recollection that tabasco is sometimes served with oysters; and thought, what-the-hey!, I’ll give it a try.
Well, that was half a dozen perfectly good oysters wasted.
The instant tabasco hit totally overpowered the gentle burst of ocean flavour. In fact, it overpowered the rest of the dinner and, as far as my children were concerned, my prolonged Gilbert Gottfried impression only confirmed their worst fears about oysters for good.
Think I’ll stick to lemon from now on.