“He was a bold man who first ate an oyster,” mused Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels. Back in 1726, chowing down on these slippery molluscs must have seemed terrifically avant-garde, so it’s still a little funny that in 2013, a tray of oysters still holds the ability to intrigue, divide tastes and opinions, all the while inciting social anxiety (to chew or not to chew?) as well as baffling the uninitiated guzzler.
There’s no need to worry though – Australian oysters taste nothing like a seaweed kiss of a mermaid, and even better, they’re not as complicated as you might think. Read on for a cheat sheet on Australia’s two oysters species, grown in five major regions.
Coffin Bay, South Australia: The most widely recognised of all Australian oysters, Coffin Bay oysters are often seen on restaurant menus and could be described as the media darling of the mollusc world. The nutrient-rich waters of the region give these oysters an extremely salty, real sea taste.
Smoky Bay, South Australia: Because of the comparatively unprotected nature of their environment, Smoky Bay oysters have a notably robust, hearty flavour, which – although similarly salty – is not as refined as their Coffin Bay sibling, but just as delicious.
Moulting Bay, Tasmania: We can thank the Japanese for the non-native Pacific oysters, which were first brought over around the 1940s and 50s as spat (baby oysters) and grown in controlled environments, before being introduced to Tasmanian waters, including Moulting Bay. Taking to the region like a fish to water, these Pacific oysters are now regarded as some of the best in the country, if not the world. Not nearly as salty as South Australian oysters, they are fat and creamy with a sweet, delicate finish.
Blackman Bay, Tasmania: Hailing from the seas that surround the road to Port Arthur, Blackman Bay oysters are a lesser-known wildcard and incidentally, Andronis’ personal favourite. They have a similar taste to Smoky Bay oysters but are balanced by a more refined flavour. Casually drop them into conversation for serious oyster kudos!
Cape Hawk, New South Wales: Unlike Pacific oysters, which are largely uniform in appearance, Rock species are shallower and more aesthetically erratic, as is to be expected from a native variety. The Cape Hawk region offers the warmer water temperatures and environmental protection in which this variety thrives, giving them a creamy, mineral texture that runs off the nearby land.
Armed with all of this knowledge of local regions and varieties, you may wonder how to best enjoy this delicacy of the sea? A purist, Andronis suggests doing as little as possible. “I’m a good fish monger, so I say straight from the ocean with a little bit of lemon, au naturale! None of this cooking, toppings, sauces, garnish or vinegar.”
While Andronis swears simple is best, since 18th century, heartbreaker Casanova reportedly enjoyed 50 oysters each morning for breakfast. It seems we can afford to try them every which way. Oysters up!
Clamms proudly supports Oyster Frenzy