In the UK you can only get 2 types of oysters; the Native, and the Pacific/Gigas (photo below). On our last trip to the Company Shed, we were unable to sample the delights of the Native oyster as it was summer, this year we returned when the Native oysters were in season. After hearing so much about them, and how they were a gourmet delight, I was expecting great things from them.
Native oysters are only available when there is an R in the month, whereas Pacific oysters are available all year round. The Natives are nearly twice the price of the Pacifics. However are they worth the price difference?
In some shellfish, their different sizes result in the sizes having different tastes and textures. For example with clams, the larger sizes, quahogs and cherrystones are tougher and less sweet than the smaller littlenecks and topnecks, so only the smaller sizes of clams are eaten raw, while the larger ones are generally cooked.
With the Native oysters, their size does not appear to affect whether or not they can been eaten raw, the largest classified as No.1 to the smallest No.4. Naturally for the meal, I ordered the largest I could get a dozen No.1s. (see photo below)
The Colchester Native oysters we tried are reputedly the best in the country.
From Richard Hawards (the supplier of the Company Sheds’ oysters) website:
‘Dredged from the deeper waters of the river, where they have lain for four years or more, during the spring, they are placed in the warm shallow waters of the creek to enjoy the food streaming from the surrounding marshland. By the start of the season in September they are plump and, when taken from the beds, are carefully carried from the boat to be washed, graded, depurated and packed ready for delivery to discerning connoisseurs.’
I think I have a pretty good palate, and am pretty good at recognising good food, but after sampling Native oysters, I couldn’t really discern a major difference to the Pacific oysters I’ve eaten in the past.
From the appearance of the shell, and the actual look of the oyster flesh, I could tell you which was which, without having the other on hand to compare it with, but as to which was which from the taste, I would need to sample them head to head.
According to the press, the Natives are supposed to have a firmer flesh, and taste more creamy than the Pacific, but it wasn’t pronounced enough so that it stood out against the Pacific oysters I’ve had in the past.
Essentially both the Native and Pacific tasted like they should, i.e. like oysters.
Admittedly, I take my oysters with lemon and Tabasco, so a lot of the taste is masked, but for me I don’t think the natives are worth the extra cost. I can have twice as many Pacific oysters for the money as the Natives, and I can have them any time of the year.
So it’s a draw regarding taste, but for me the Pacific wins on value and availability.
The calorific value of oysters is low too. A dozen oysters are around 100kcal, meaning that should I so desire, I could eat around 300 of them a day and still not go over my 2500 kcal limit. It would cost me £462.50 though…
After a spot of googling it seems that China consumes 80% of the global oyster harvest, and they are content enough with the pacific variety and they haven’t gone mad for natives yet. In Hong Kong I’ve had raw, dried, in batter, in omelettes and in oyster sauce (apparently boil oysters in water for a long long time).