Shuck & Awe!

’Tis the sea­son to overindulge. But help­fully, some party favourites pack a stealth health punch. In­dulge in oys­ters and other se­cretly savvy choices for hol­i­day fare

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Laura Grande

Oys­ters and other stealth health choices for hol­i­day fare

IWAS A LATE bloomer: I didn’t try my first oys­ter – raw or oth­er­wise – un­til a friend in­tro­duced me to them six years ago. He en­ticed me to a pop­u­lar Toronto restau­rant with a prom­ise of fresh lob­ster, yet I left with a newly ac­quired han­ker­ing for this mol­lusk. I re­mem­ber hes­i­tantly try­ing that first one at his urg­ing, sans sauce or horse­rad­ish: sweet, briny, with a mild fruity fin­ish – I can taste it still. It was a Kusshi from Van­cou­ver Is­land. You could say it was love at first slurp.

Since then, I’ve found my­self fol­low­ing a slew of In­sta­gram ac­counts ded­i­cated to oys­ter farm­ing. (That’s right, I dou­ble-tap ev­ery time an oys­ter pops up on my feed and I don’t care who knows it.) My oys­ter ob­ses­sion isn’t rare, how­ever. After read­ing ev­ery­thing I could get my hands on about the his­tory of the mol­lusk, I dis­cov­ered the art of shuck­ing dates back thou­sands of years. In 2015, re­searchers from Lei­den Univer­sity in the Nether­lands dis­cov­ered a shell dat­ing back 500,000 years with draw­ings scratched onto it.

“Per­haps our fond­ness for oys­ters is in­grained in our DNA – an evo­lu­tion­ary throw­back to our ba­sic needs of wa­ter, salt and pro­tein,” sug­gests Pa­trick McMur­ray, pro­pri­etor of Toronto restau­rant The Ceili Cot­tage and au­thor of The Oys­ter Com­pan­ion: A Field Guide.

McMur­ray, who signs off emails with “Shuck­ingly yours,” is also the Guin­ness World Records ti­tle­holder for shuck­ing with a record­break­ing 39 oys­ters in one minute – that equates to ap­prox­i­mately 1.5 sec­onds per shell.

At Ceili Cot­tage, I opt for a prime spot at the bar so I can wit­ness McMur­ray in his el­e­ment and get a first-hand glimpse of how a cham­pion ac­tu­ally shucks an oys­ter.

Slid­ing the knife into the shell

of a fist-sized Malpeque from Prince Ed­ward Is­land, McMur­ray twists and ef­fort­lessly pops the oys­ter open with the slight­est flick of the wrist, re­veal­ing the plump meat within. It has a mouth-wa­ter­ing ef­fect on me. McMur­ray places the oys­ter on its half shell be­tween my fingers. “A fresh oys­ter tastes of the ocean,” he says. “It should smell fan­tas­tic – like seaweed, earth and some­thing very happy.” I nod and bring the tip of the shell to my lips be­fore toss­ing it back. It tastes ex­actly as he’d de­scribed: pure hap­pi­ness.

“The mer­roir [an oys­ter’s taste] is a snap­shot of the bay – and day – it was har­vested on,” McMur­ray tells me, as he plucks an­other shell from a bed of ice. “No other food that I have ex­pe­ri­enced can give you such a ref­er­ence to the place that it comes from. No other food is so per­fect and com­plex in its sin­gu­lar­ity.” For ex­am­ple, he adds, “Kelly oys­ters from Gal­way taste of the air in the west of Ire­land – the Cliffs of Mo­her, wet stone and the seaweed of Doolin Bay.”

For­tu­nately for oys­ter lovers – and soon-to-be con­verts – the nu­mer­ous ben­e­fits are an added bonus. GOOD SHUCK There are pur­port­edly more than 200 species of oys­ters in the world, yet only a se­lect num­ber are cul­ti­vated for food. Those that we do en­joy with a pinch of horse­rad­ish or a dash of lemon zest are low in fat and high in pro­tein, omega-3 fatty acids, vi­ta­min B12 and the min­er­als iron, se­le­nium and zinc. Oys­ters are, in fact, our best source of zinc – one min­eral we don’t want to skimp on since it’s es­sen­tial to im­mune health and func­tion, help­ing us fight in­fec­tion and dis­ease.

“Lit­er­ally, more than 100 per cent of your daily need of zinc is from one serv­ing of oys­ters,” says Van­cou­ver­based di­eti­tian and well­ness coach Jess Pir­nak. “We need about 10 mil­ligrams a day of zinc, and oys­ters are 30 mil­ligrams for a serv­ing.” (A serv­ing is roughly the equiv­a­lent of seven medium-sized oys­ters.) That same hand­ful also pro­vides you with 15 grams of eas­ily di­gested pro­tein and seven grams of car­bo­hy­drates.

Danielle San­ders, also a Van­cou­ver­based di­eti­tian, breaks it down even fur­ther. “Two and a half ounces of

Pa­cific oys­ters would give you 24 mil­ligrams of zinc whereas beef, which is prob­a­bly your next best source, would only give you four mil­ligrams. That’s a huge dif­fer­ence. At­lantic oys­ters from the east­ern se­aboard can have even dou­ble the amount of zinc as Pa­cific oys­ters with 48 mil­ligrams.” Why? It’s likely due to the dif­fer­ing con­cen­tra­tions of min­er­als in the aquatic en­vi­ron­ment of where the oys­ters were har­vested. Zinc is also im­por­tant for restor­ing body tis­sue. “As we age, our skin gets more frag­ile, too,” San­ders notes.

Oys­ters also have a long his­tory as an aphro­disiac – you’ll re­call the lib­er­tine Casanova cred­ited his vo­ra­cious sex­ual ap­petite to his fond­ness for the oys­ter – as well as a po­tent sym­bol of fer­til­ity and birth. We can thank their high zinc con­tent for that, to0. The min­eral has been known to boost testos­terone lev­els in both men and women.

As for the iron we get from oys­ters – al­most as much as 40 per cent of our daily in­take per serv­ing – San­ders says that, although we don’t need more of it as we age, we still do need it to help trans­port oxy­gen to our or­gans and tis­sues as well as for the pro­duc­tion of red blood cells. “If you don’t have proper red blood cell pro­duc­tion, you will have low en­ergy,” she says.

And de­spite what you’ve heard, oys­ters are al­ways in sea­son. Avoid­ing raw oys­ters in the months with­out the let­ter r is an out­dated rule by about 500 years. “There is a lit­tle ditty scribed by an English monk in the 1500s about his lo­cal oys­ter, Ostrea edulis (Euro­pean Flat), which, if you har­vest them in those months with­out an r, you will de­crease the stock in forth­com­ing years by about 30 mil­lion oys­ters,” McMur­ray ex­plains. “But since the 1500s, we have ad­vanced in re­frig­er­a­tion and trans­porta­tion tech­niques. I can get Ir­ish oys­ters flown to Toronto about 24 hours after be­ing taken from the wa­ter.”

As Jonathan Swift quipped, “He was a bold man that first ate an oys­ter.” And thank good­ness for that. —Laura Grande

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