Lessons for strangers (to oysters)
By Katherine Pettit
The young woman spoke first, leaning in and earnestly asking, “How many times do you chew those things, anyway?” The “things” were lightly steamed oysters; the place a local oyster bar; and the action that prompted the question came as a result of being watched as I happily slurped away.
I pondered. Had never given it much thought, although a standing joke with my spouse included wondering about the first human who’d decided raw oysters were edible – desirable, even.
Nevertheless, I saw an opportunity and grabbed it. “Once or twice, I suppose, although chewing isn’t a big part of the experience.”
She confessed that she and her friend – they were obviously a couple – had thought about it, tried fried oysters once and thought them “okay,” and longed to give it a whirl, but had never summoned the courage. I pushed down the question of why the pair had frequented an oyster bar, however the place had other seafood and a quirky, inviting atmosphere. Not important.
“They really taste good,” I said, offering her one of my precious morsels as an introduction. She frowned and shook her head. Determined to be the one to bring this particular seafood and this couple together in culinary matrimony, I had a thought.
“Why not try an oyster shooter?” I suggested, noting that the lemon vodka and cocktail sauce would envelop the oyster, and the oyster-eater, in comfort and ease. They agreed.
The server placed the order and we waited, making casual conversation. The shooters arrived. She hesitated. He, manfully, tipped his head back and drained the glass. And then he grimaced. His face turned pale. He swallowed, but I wasn’t sure we’d seen the last of that particular bivalve. His pained expression subsided, but his companion looked positively horrified. “How many times did you chew it?” she asked. He shook his head, unable to speak.
“You can do this,” I coached, still unaware of the error of my ways.
She tried, I’ll give her credit for that. The oyster actually made it into her mouth, but not for long. She simply couldn’t complete the task. Her companion finally spoke. “I think it would have been better without the alcohol,” he said. She pushed her small glass away. And then I realized where I’d gone wrong.
The taste of an oyster is the taste of the sea: briny liquid that brings its own salt to the mouth. It’s the texture that throws off many. The soft, plumpness that is so appealing to me and my spouse is downright disgusting to others.
He said, as they stood, “Perhaps I should have tried one with only cocktail sauce.” I offered to give him one of mine, with cocktail sauce as he’d suggested. At that, both turned and rushed away, probably never to be seen in that establishment again.
And so, my friends, should you ever want to introduce strangers to the magnificent oyster, take my advice. Suggest they begin with the apparently somewhat offending creature perched on a saltine, slathered with cocktail sauce, an icy beverage at the ready. At least the number of times to bite down will no longer be an issue for your oyster-eating novice.