Up the ante this Christmas and serve up a beautiful bed of fresh Australian oysters. Whether you enjoy them natural or drizzled with a flavoursome dressing, here's everything you need to know to get it perfect this entertaining season.
Australia has three main oysters – Sydney Rock, Pacific and Native – with virtually all oysters consumed today farmed.
Sydney Rock oysters: These are native to Australia and sometimes called Western Rock oysters if farmed in Western Australia. They have triangular-shaped shells and the edge of the meat is pale. They're smaller than Pacifics with a rich, sweet flavour.
Pacific oysters: Also known as Coffin Bay or Japanese oysters, Pacific oysters were introduced to Tasmania from Japan and are also grown in South Australia and in a few areas of NSW. The Pacific's shell is slightly larger than the Rock's and the meat has a black edge. Its flavour is fresh, clean and salty.
Native oysters: Also called Angasi, the Native oyster is a variety from southern Australia with a flat shell, but it's now quite scarce. It is full-flavoured with a rich texture and great for cooking.
How to buy oysters
Oysters are available year-round in Australia with each variety at their best for a few months each year. Sydney Rocks are best from September to March. Pacifics are best from April to September, but should be avoided during January and February. Natives are best from May to August, but avoid from November to March.
When buying oysters, trust your nose. They should have a light, fresh smell. Avoid any that are pungent or odorous.
How to store oysters
Oysters are best bought live. Store them unopened in the warmest part of the fridge for up to a week, covered with a cloth that is kept damp.
Oysters should be shucked just before serving. Once opened, oysters should be stored below 4ºC and consumed as soon as possible (within 24 hours).
How to prepare oysters
There are various ways to open an oyster: prising open from the lip end; going in through the hinge; or opening from the side.
Professionally opened oysters are usually washed and flipped over for presentation.
If you aren't opening your own oysters, try to buy them unwashed with all their natural flavour.
Oysters can also be opened by cooking them on a barbecue or in a steamer.
How to cook oysters
The delicate flesh needs very little heat – stop cooking as soon as the edges start to curl. Larger Pacifics are often better served cooked.
How to serve oysters
You can serve oysters natural, placed on a bed of ice with lemon halves wrapped in muslin and a little black pepper.
But, if you want something with a bit of kick, these three toppers make enough for 12 shucked oysters in the half shell.
Cucumber and ginger dressing: Stir 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon mirin and 1 teaspoon each sesame oil and sugar, until sugar dissolves. Add 2 teaspoons sliced pickled ginger and 1 baby cucumber, cut into strips.
Green apple and wasabi dressing: Combine 2 tablespoons white balsamic dressing and 1 teaspoon wasabi in a small bowl. Add ½ green apple cut into matchsticks and 2 tablespoons micro mint leaves.
Thai dressing: Finely chop ¼ green onion and 1 tablespoon coriander. Combine with 1 teaspoon each fish sauce, grated palm sugar, lime juice and rice wine vinegar; top oysters.
This story originally appeared in the Christmas 2017 issue of The Australian Women's Weekly. To stay up-to-date with our food experts, you can subscribe to the magazine online via magshop.