cghearth, in association with Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, introduces the wonders of oyster to chefs in Kochi

It seems that even the oyster's biggest claim to fame, as a powerful aphrodisiac, the arousal food, has not been able to turn the tide in its favour among Indian palates!

Fried, masaledar, deep-fried, dunked in gravy is how we love our food, and though snobbish, gourmet and stylish, the raw oyster does not stand a chance. But wait a minute. Change seems to be on the anvil, though not so soon, surely.

In an effort to disseminate the goodness of raw oyster, the efforts by cghearth together with CMFRI (Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute) had chefs from around the city introduced to the facts and versatility of the mollusc.

From the 20-odd chefs that were present only two had had oysters and none had tasted it in its raw form, the most delectable form, says Chef Jose Varkey, Corporate Chef, cgh, heading this unique food programme.

Home grown

Serving fresh farmed oysters from Sathar Island, Moothakunnam, he is on a mission of popularising this home grown gourmet food in its rawest, ecologically natural form. Stylishly placed on a bed of ice the oysters are prised opened by the deft fingers of the ladies from the self help group. They are served with lime squeezed on top and eaten in gulpfuls. “Chase it down with white wine,” says an obvious been-there, done-that food buff.

So one learns the goodness of this mollusc, that it can be consumed fully, that it is low in saturated fats, high in proteins and high in certain minerals, zinc and selenium and that it is rich in vitamins too. So then the question: why are we ignoring this natural source of food growing right in our neighbourhood? Why are we not availing ourselves of its benefits completely?

“It is lack of awareness primarily,” believes chef Varkey , besides the fact that the oyster was always frowned upon as a lowly creature, not fit to make it to the tables laden with ‘thorans' and umpteen ‘kootans'.

Currently the farmed oysters are shucked (meat is removed) and then canned or cooked Indian style. Chef Varkey reasons that one oyster shell costs Rs. 5 but a kilo of meat is only Rs. 125, which is the meat from as many oysters.

“So the profit for the self help group is very marginal. If our consumption turns to the raw or steamed or baked variety in the shell then each portion will fetch the group a substantial profit,” proving that harvesting and farming of this magnificent food will turn viable and will have an industry going that's not only profitable and helpful socially but also healthy.

His aggressive mission is of course to convert the hardened inflexible palates, which is a tall order but not impossible, he believes. “Children should be introduced to this exotic seafood, as savouring oysters is an acquired taste. Once that's done we can wean them away from all the junk foods that are slowly but surely toxic,” he thunders.

Easy bite

So as an initiation how do we consume the oyster?

Well he has a smart recipe, the love-at-first-sight kind where one is easily led on by the looks. The visually attractive open shell oysters, with its spongy meat cushioned invitingly can be baked in some lemon-butter-garlic sauce. Straight out from the oven with its delicious aroma, this popular version may just convert you. And for the die-hard curry eaters he recommends the stir fried oyster with idiyappam.

Well, yes we are now on familiar terrain and wow, loving it. The shucked oyster meat is sautéed with fresh green spices and curry leaves and topped on an idiyappam.

The biggest trepidation one has with such food is the danger of the bacterial content but Dr. Sunil Mohammed, principal scientist and head of Molluscan Fisheries Division, CMFRI, says that farmed oysters are safe for consumption. Its salinity and bacterial specifications are all monitored. With such assurance and oysters available in plenty what's holding us back?

With an Oyster Bar coming up at Café Earth in David Hall, oysters will be right here to savour. So, oye, oye for the oyster feast!

Keywords: Oyster dishes

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