It’s oyster season

Everything you need to know about tucking into these moreish molluscs

We anchor the boat having spotted a mud oasis peeking out of the swirling brown waters of the Breede River. We jump in and swim towards it with a hammer. Feet on the squelchy land we find flat oysters the size of a man’s palm attached to the rocks. Like wild things, we hammer the cluster loose. After prying two open (not an easy task) we rinse them in the water, and the river oysters go down our throats au naturel: slippery with a salty, sweet taste, underpinned by earthy river notes.

Not your everyday shucking experience, finding and enjoying these fanciful delicacies in this manner was almost as uncommon as river oysters themselves. Although native to South Africa, this breed of the raw shellfish is rarely cultivated here.

The Pacific oyster is the most popular breed worldwide,” says Ross Baker of Wild Peacock, a Stellenbosch supplier of gourmet goods. Ross, a bit of an oyster expert, shares that this breedís spat (oysters in the larval stage) is imported directly from Japan and sewn in estuaries all over South Africaís east and west coasts. The majority in the Western Cape are produced in farms along the West Coast, with Saldanha Bay being a hot bed of production.

Wild Peacock’s oysters are farmed in the town. ìThe spat starts growth in the inner bay,î informs Ross. ìThen comes to term in the outer bay, where the water is colder and cleaner.î

The briny bivalves are best eaten in winter

Oysters should have plump flesh thatís clear and tastes of the sea, with a touch of sweetness. In summer though, the heat kick-starts the spawning process, which results in not-so-appetising milky oysters. The off-putting milkiness can be avoided with a breed of oysters called triploids, which are engineered without sex genomesómeaning when itís time procreate, the equipment isnít there.

Ross, however, likes to keep things natural and deals instead in diploids (oysters that get to keep their junk). He says that over the last few years farms place mature oysters in holding tanks with chilled water. ìThe oysters ëthinkí itís winter, and donít spawn as much.î

Opening oysters

Now that you know when to enjoy them, thereís also the question of how. When shucking at home wear a pair of gloves, and brace the oyster against a kitchen towel. Then insert an oyster knife (or if you donít have, a flat knife that doesnít have a sharp point) into its front opening and slide the knife along the lid. Cut through the abductor muscle (itís located midway down the shell), but try and keep most of it intact, as itís one of the sweetest parts.

Finish off your opened oyster with lemon, black pepper and enjoy the natural flavour.

Oysters are good for you too, brimming with zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. But are they an aphrodisiac, or is that just an urban legend? ìMy dad has this running joke,î says Ross. ìIt only works after the sixth one.î

The best places to eat oysters in Cape Town

Wild Peacock Food Emporium

These gourmet gurus have a bistro-style restaurant, where itís a sin to leave without slurping up a few of their quality oysters; an indulgence thatís duly helped along with a glass of local bubbly, of course. They deliver too.
32 Piet Retief Street | Stellenbosch | +27 (0)21 887 7585

Twankey Bar

Find yourself a seat at their seafood and oyster barand sip on a frothy head of Guinness; a sublime and quintessentially Irish match for a plate of briny oysters.
Wale Street | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 819 2000

Haute CabriËre Restaurant

This restaurant has a view of Franschhoek like no other, perched on Pass Road, the wineland town is spread out below. Soak up the vista with a plate ofoysters and the estateís MËthode Cap Classique. We tried oysters with apple and ginger sorbet.
Pass Road | Franschhoek | +27 (0)21 876 3688

Mother Shucker Oysters

Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock wouldnít be the same without this jolly two-some steadily shucking oysters. They sell plates of half-a-dozen for a song, and they even throw in a glass of bubbly. Many of the cityís party people swear by this Saturday morning hangover cure.
The Old Biscuit Mill | 373 - 375 Albert Road | Woodstock | Cape Town

The Noisy Oyster

Head to this Paternoster institution for sweet, plump oysters in a rustic fishing village setting.
62 St. Augustine Road | Paternoster | +27 (0)21 752 2196

By Malu Lambert