From the sea to your plate: Oysters
At English’s we know our oysters inside and out, rock and native, raw and cooked. We’ve been in the seafood business for over 150 years and we’re the only restaurant in the city that provides our customers with four different types of oyster. In the first of a series of blogs about various seafood we specialise in, we explore how our oysters travel from the sea to your plate.
Richard Haward, with his son Bram, have been farming oysters for 6 generations on Mersea Island. A tidal causeway connects the mainland to this island at low tide, giving one access to the hub of the operation with the purification tanks at the rear as well as the famous company shed restaurant, run by his daughter.
They farm both rock oysters and native oysters, and unusually for rock (Pacific) oysters they are left to live wild and are not contained in mesh sacks – this makes the gathering of the oysters in the ‘rake’ that’s thrown off the back of the boat a lottery as to how many are picked up. The rake is winched up mechanically and then pulled on board, only then do they see how many oysters have come up – these are then hand picked out and anything left is thrown back into the estuary where the process starts again – this is repetitive, hard work but a good way to ensure no damage is done.
This way has not changed for many years and has a good rhythm as the boat slowly moves around covering specific areas that are simply denoted by big sticks stuck into the muddy bottom and have different coloured rags to identify the areas. The oysters are then brought to shore and taken to the tank area, sprayed down, graded and put in the purification tanks for 24 hours or so – ultraviolet lights are used to kill the bacteria that can be inherent in oysters …
The very efficient Corinne who arrived from France years ago and stayed, boxes up the orders and sends them out all over the country and to some foreign destinations… Italy, Dubai, Hong Kong.
Richard’s oysters have a good strong mineral flavour – the estuary is quite muddy and although tidal the oysters live under the water all the time and are left to be free on the bed so this gives them the unique strong and meaty flavour.
We have been involved with Richard for many years and we benefit from buying direct 5 days of the week so freshness is assured.
When the oysters arrive into English’s, they are in a sealed, breathable container of 50 oysters direct from the farms, thereby bypassing the suppliers which most people use and getting to us as fresh as possible. Every container of oysters comes with a ID/Health Mark, which is a card giving all the relevant details such as Batch Number, species and dispatch date.
We only clean oyster batches as we use them, thereby extending their freshness. Once cleaned they are stored in the original batches with the corresponding Health Mark and covered with a damp cloth until they get taken up to the bar for service. Once a new batch is taken to the bar we attach the Health Mark in the diary to the corresponding day to ensure complete traceability.
All raw oysters are served from the bar, shucked for the customers to see. All staff are trained to open oysters though no one does it with quite as much elan as our head oyster shucker Jonathan. Read more about him and how he does it here.
Cooked oysters get freshly opened at the bar as they are ordered to ensure they are as fresh as possible. They are then taken down to the kitchen for chef Yuri, our head Chef, to work his magic.
Raw oysters are served on a platter of crushed ice with a wedge of lemon and a little red wine & shallot vinegar. The cooked ones are served according to chef’s inspiration! We serve oysters as soon after opening as possible so as to ensure the fresh burst of sea and salt is experienced at it best.
Our years of experience and know how means we are famous for our oysters across the city and beyond. To try yours at our historic oyster bar, go here to book.