Fish on Friday February – Oysters: Smoked, Pickled, Ceviche’d

Rhubarb oyster ceviche

My friend Patricia Coplestone, a permaculture farmer in Dorset describes this time of year so well. With the tone of a sorceress she will say “Deepest darkest winter is upon us, the days are short and the weather harsh. I love the depths of winter and the solitude it brings.” Patricia works on the land forcing her to live with nature, much like a fisherman at sea – acutely aware of the seasons and their process. The seas are rough and isolating at this time of year, unforgiving and uncontrollable. In order for people who work in harmony with the land and sea to succeed they must surrender to the elements and trust in nature. For those of us that have less of a connection with the land and sea; living in cities, working in offices transfixed by a screen instead of a vast land/seascape it’s so important to maintain our connection with nature. The best way to do this is through our food and the people who produce it. For this simple reason; eat well and remain conscious about where your food comes from; Shop for your food as close to it’s source as possible; Go to markets or even buy direct from the fisherman or farmer themselves; And talk to the producer about how your food was grown, reared or caught. A good way to do this is by joining a Community supported agriculture or fishery scheme (CSA/CSF). A CSA/F is a partnership between the farmer or fisherman and the local community or customer. Members will receive a weekly/monthly box containing the weeks harvest or catch and have the opportunity to help with the production too. Jack and Theresa run a CSF in London called Soleshare and are taking subscriptions from early February. The Soil Association have a directory of CSA’s on their website.

Autumn’s larder is weining; apples, beetroots, garlic, and other vegetables that are stored well into the winter are reaching their shelf life. With limited local vegetables it can be hard to eat seasonally, however there’s always treats if you’re willing to look for them. Two of my favourite vegetables have just come into season: purple sprouting broccoli and blushed pink rhubarb. Both are remarkable with fish. Steam the purple sprouting broccoli and serve with bagna cauda; a delectable North Italian sauce, made with anchovies, garlic, butter and olive oil, mashed together and then used as a dip or dressing. Bagna cauda has a velvety deep brown colour, and remarkable savouriness that is explosive with flavour. A perfect winter dish. The earliest rhubarb is grown in Yorkshire in darkened warehouses, giving it a shocking pink colour that brightens up any dish it accompanies. Serve roasted alongside grilled fish or dice finely and use to make my Rhubarb and oyster ceviche below. Other fruit and vegetables in their prime are Brussel’s sprouts, celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, leeks, blood oranges, parsnips, pomegranates, swede and turnips. Blood oranges are delicious roasted with a gelatinous fish like hake or halibut. Try adding a few slices of blood orange to the roasting pan. Fish that are prolific and a good sustainable choice this month are haddock, halibut, (line-caught) black bream, (organic) gilt head bream, and sardines.

Tom Hunt The atlantic is now at it’s coldest, allowing perfect conditions for shellfish, which are that much more plump and fresh. This month my sustainable pick is oysters the most sustainable seafood of them all. Oysters are filter feeders, filtering more than 200 litres of water a day. They effectively clean the bay or creek they are inhabiting, feeding on organic particles and plankton. Apart from being a sustainable hero, and tasting heavenly, oysters are also rich in minerals, high in b12, magnesium and omega 3 fatty acids. Oysters have many nuances in flavour, similar to a fine wine they take on different characteristics from the land or seabed they are grown on. There are two main types; native oysters and rock oysters (also known as pacific, Japanese or miyagi) which were repopulated from the Pacific coast of Asia. Pacific oysters were introduced to Europe in 1966 to replace what was then a dwindling population of native oysters, over fished and open to disease. Rock oysters are now the main commercial choice but through good practice native oysters have been saved and are once again being grown commercially in the UK. They are more delicate than rock oysters and have a round shell. Native oysters can only be eaten in months with the letter R in. They go out of season in May when the waters warm and they begin to breed.

An oyster is remarkable just as it is, all on its own. But it’s also fun to experiment with new ideas. Here are some punchy flavoured recipes to prepare your oysters with a difference.

Pickled oyster with paprika and shallots

This is a variation on a classic Portuguese escabeche recipe used for preserving seafood by lightly pickling in olive oil and vinegar. Oysters are so delicate and need to be cooked only lightly and with care. By pouring the hot liquid over the oysters and allowing them to cook in the residual heat, it controls the cooking process and perfectly cooks the oyster.

Ingredients – makes 6

75ml white wine vinegar (moscatel if available)

75ml water

25g salt

1 tbsp honey

Optional – 1/2 tsp coriander, 1 bay leaf

1/4 red onion, finely sliced

6 rock oysters, shucked

Pinch dried chilli to serve

Method

1) Bring the vinegar and water to the boil with the salt, honey and aromatic spices if using. Stir until dissolved.

2) Meanwhile, shuck the oysters and place into a small container with the finely sliced shallots. Keep the shells to one side. Pour the hot pickling liquor over the oysters and allow to cool, refrigerate. Serve on the shell with a little onion and a pinch of dried chilli if you wish.

Pickled oyster

Hot smoked oyster with back fat

If you enjoy the alchemy of smoking food but have never had the courage to do it, then this is the recipe for you. Open your window and turn on the extractor fan to help disperse the smoke.

Ingredients – makes 6

2 tbsp green tea leaves

1 tbsp rice

6 rock oysters, shucked

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp white/red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp paprika

2 very thin slices of lardo or pancetta (optional), cut into 6 pieces

Method

1) Shuck and pat dry the oysters. Keep the shells to one side.

2) Find a small saucepan-steamer, scatter the tea leaves and rice into the saucepan, place the steamer on top. Put the oysters inside, making sure they are not touching and place the lid on top.

3) Turn on a medium heat, when you see smoke cook for a further three minutes. Remove the oysters and place in a container with the olive oil, vinegar and paprika. Allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes. Serve in the shell with a small piece of lardo on top if using.

Hot smoked oyster

Rhubarb and oyster ceviche

Ceviche originated in Peru where they call its juice leche de tigre or tiger’s milk. It’s even drunk as a shot with pisco, a Peruvian brandy. The tiger milk from this oyster ceviche is the best I’ve ever tried and makes the most amazing cocktail. To make: mix 25ml of the ceviche juice with 25ml of pisco or vodka.

Ingredients – makes 6

100g forced rhubarb

1 tsp unrefined sugar

20ml lime juice

6 small leaves, flat parsley

6 rock oysters, shucked

Method

1) Cut 3/4 of the rhubarb into 3cm pieces. Place in a saucepan with a splash of water and the sugar. Pop a lid on top and bring to a gentle simmer for five minutes. Strain the rhubarb retaining the rhubarb juice. Save the pulp for your breakfast and eat with yoghurt or porridge.

2) Shuck the oysters and place into a small container with the rhubarb and lime juice, marinade for at least 30 minutes. Keep the shells to one side.

3) Cut the remaining rhubarb into a very fine dice. Serve the oysters in the shell with some of the juice and decorate with a half a teaspoon of diced rhubarb and a small parsley leaf.

Oyster ceviche

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