Jelena Iljuhhina is a pharmacist and nutritionist with a genuine passion for food and cooking. Her approach to nutrition focuses on finding the perfect balance – combining healthy habits with all the joys and colours of our lives. “Eat better, not less. Indulge in what you love, just do it the right way”
Life is too short to ignore oysters and champagne! Get ready for a nutritious and delicious feast as we share everything you need to know about oysters this Valentine’s…
For a long time oysters have been considered as a luxury – an elite food that could only be ordered in swanky, expensive restaurants. Now this delicacy has become a mainstream delight. You can find oyster cafes, pop-up bars – even oyster events and tours across the country. Furthermore, you can now easily pick up half a dozen for a fiver at your local fishmonger. So it seems like there has never been a better time to indulge in oysters, especially on Valentine’s Day!
Did you know that oysters are incredibly nutritious and are in fact a superfood? They are jam-packed with minerals, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Oysters are rich in protein and contain very few calories. Unlike any other fish or seafood, they are considered one of the most sustainable and ethical foods when it comes to the environment. Oysters don’t require any additional feeds, chemicals or antibiotics to grow and are also a natural water purifier. These bivalves are farmed at a very low impact on the environment, so it’s win-win: the more you eat them the better it is for our planet.
Back to nutrition…
Oysters are one of the world’s richest foods in zinc. Depending on the species and preparation method, an oyster can contain up to 500% daily value of this essential mineral. Studies have shown that consuming adequate volumes of zinc is associated with improved immune function, faster wound healing and reduced inflammation. A recent study concluded that oysters and other zinc-rich foods help improve our sleep. Furthermore, zinc plays an important role in mental health, reproduction and fertility. Zinc is a critical element for sperm and testosterone formation, which is probably where all the claims regarding increased libido originated from.
Are oysters really aphrodisiacs?
Even though there is no scientific evidence that oysters are aphrodisiacs, this claim has been around for so long, that oysters are now labelled as a libido enhancer. Perhaps due to a placebo effect, this myth still rings true! The simple pleasure of sharing a platter of oysters while sipping on champagne with a charming companion will probably do the job.
Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and zinc, oysters are the perfect food to improve skin appearance and complexity. Zinc supports collagen production and selenium is a powerful antioxidant that protects our body from free radicals and skin ageing. In turn, oysters can be considered as a natural supplement for maintaining healthy, glowing skin.
Superior quality protein
Oysters contain a high biological value protein, meaning they contain all essential amino acids. In a recent study assessing the biochemical properties of an oyster, scientists discovered that oyster protein was superior to an egg – the ultimate protein champion. While you probably won’t be frying oysters for breakfast, it wouldn’t hurt to include them in your diet now and then.
Calories and weight loss
Being a nutrient dense foods, oysters are surprisingly very low in calories. A portion of salmon or chicken contains roughly double calories of the same volume of oysters. So they are a perfect treat for those who are watching their weight, or calorie intake.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Do I even need to list the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids? Oysters are packed with these essential fats, which have been proven to have numerous positive effects on our health, such as reducing risk of strokes and heart attacks, lowering blood pressure, improving immune function, promoting musculoskeletal health, protecting from asthma, preventing breast cancer and dementia. So there are plenty of reasons to consider oysters as part of a balanced diet.
If you are planning a romantic dinner at home this Valentine’s, read on to learn how to buy, store and shuck the oysters:
- Always buy oysters from a reputable source. Ask if they are fresh and when they were delivered (the perfect answer would be “this morning”). Shells should always be closed, otherwise tap them, if they are still open, the oyster is probably off and is no good to eat. They should feel heavy, meaning they are full of ‘liquor’ (the natural oyster juice).
- After buying oysters, store them in a cold place covered with a wet paper towel or a damp cloth. It is very important to store the oyster with the cupped shell side to the bottom, so that the liquor won’t leak out.
- How to shuck: place an oyster cup side down wrapped in a kitchen towel (protecting your hand). Using (ideally) a shucking knife, place the blade in the corner where shells meet, push and twist it. It is all about finding the right spot where oyster will pretty much let you to pop it open. Once open, clean the blade and slide the knife by the top shell to cut off the muscle. When you open your oyster it should have a fresh appealing smell of the ocean. Lastly, slide the knife under the oyster to release the muscle from the bottom shell.
- Serve on a plate with ice or rock salt.
You can enjoy oysters raw, grilled/blowtorched, steamed or as addition to numerous dishes, stews or even cocktails.
Raw: Jazz them up with some delicious sauces or simply squeeze some lemon juice and Tabasco.
Mignonette: 1 finely chopped shallot, 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, 2 tbsp white wine vinegar (can use either as a double quantity), 1 tsp sugar, freshly ground black pepper.
Simple ginger-ponzu sauce: 4 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp orange juice, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tsp Mirin, 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
Spicy chorizo + jalapeño butter: Prepare this butter and leave it in the fridge, it can also be used with fish, chicken or as a flavour boost with roast veggies or pasta. 3 tbsp chorizo, 3 tbsp softened butter, 1/3 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/3 tsp smoked paprika, 1 clove of garlic (minced), 1-2 tbsp pickled jalapeños, 2 tsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley. Blend all ingredients into a paste and place 1-2 tsp on each oyster. Preheat the oven to 200c at the ‘heating and grill’ setting, place oysters on a roast rack or parchment paper with some rock salt for stability. Grill for 8-10 mins. Serve with some freshly chopped parsley and few dashes of Tabasco.
Miso-lemon butter: Mix softened butter with miso (half and half) into a paste, add some freshly ground pepper. Add 1 tsp to each oyster and grill for 8-10 mins. Serve with squeeze of lemon juice and chopped chives.
Jelena Iljuhhina, MSc Pharm, MSc Clin Nutr