I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was 4, sitting with my parents in the Northwood Inn.. My father ordered oysters on the half-shell and I wanted one.
My mother waved away the notion. “You’ll get sick,” she said. Of course, that made me want one more.
With my first slurp of silky, slippery orb, from lips to tongue to the almost-instant slide down my throat, I found the seventh level of nirvana. It was wonderful and memorable – and to this day, I can slip a raw oyster into my mouth and become a different man.
Famed adventure-chef Anthony Bourdain says his most meaningful memory was the day he first ate a raw oyster. It was the same for me.
Perhaps it’s the suggestive power of eating something which may bring harm. After all, oysters eaten raw contain the hint and promise of potential food-borne illness.
But it’s never happened to me.
I like the frontier-rebel nature of the raw oyster – a rich source of zinc, crucial to the production of testosterone, an uncooked orb of pleasure that only the bravest dare taste.
“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster,” said Jonathan Swift.
The act of eating an oyster is an art and an adventure, much like the seduction of a woman. Merely placing my order includes the thrill of the chase and anticipation of a smooth finish.
The plate arrives to my table – an arc of silvery jewels, hinting of brackish water and the memory of rhythmic waves driven by the pull of the moon.
Some are gathered easily from their beds while others must be culled by small rakes in shallow waters. Those that reside in deeper waters are found by long rakes or tongs or dredges. Some oysters live so deeply in the sea that divers must go beneath the currents to find them.
I don’t even know if I can describe the taste. Salty? Smooth? Acidic from the tide? Maybe it’s the taste of anticipation, the flavor of softness. The palate of conquest, triumph on my tongue.
There are many ways to prepare this perfect, lowfat, vitamin-A-rich food, but I prefer them straight from the sea. No sauce for dipping, nor any horseradish. Just the pure taste of this tiny gunmetal-gray treat.
The taste of an oyster changes with age, which is why they’re best eaten fresh. Like wine, like women, like relationships, raw oysters have layers of complexity, with textures and flavors reflecting the places they’ve been, the experiences they’ve had, the waters they’ve lived in.
My love of the oyster has never stopped, and there was only one time in my life when I ate enough. It was at a Fancy Food Show in Chicago, where a 30-foot-high wall of oysters beckoned me like a drug.
I ate until I became so full, I had to retreat to my hotel room.
I’ve shucked oysters free from their shells at raw bars in Annapolis, consuming a piece of the Chesapeake Bay with each bite. I’ve never had one I didn’t like.
Perhaps the explanation is simple: I eat oysters because in doing so, I become one with the sea, my favorite place, the place of infinite power, adventure and dread.
In some places, oysters are a Christmas treat. I prefer them at New Year’s, when the possibilities are endless and the world seemingly begins anew once more.
Oysters top the list of alleged aphrodisiacs….. though there’s little research to back it up. Some say it’s the high level of rare amino acids in oysters that trigger increased levels of sex hormones. I think it’s the texture, the taste, the thrill and dare of eating one that makes a person heartier, ready to conquer anything.