Jonathan Ray Jonathan Ray

In Praise of the Oyster

I do love a good oyster. And I love the fact that here in Toronto it’s okay and acceptable to eat them in the middle of June without an ‘R’ in the month.

My dear departed dad adored oysters and used to say that eating one was like having an angel copulate on your tongue. My mother took/takes the opposite view, saying that it’s more like eating a sneeze. Either way I love ‘em.

To my favourite places in which I’ve recently enjoyed oysters (Grand Central Station, New York; Neptune Oyster, Boston; Royal Native Oyster Stores, Whitstable and the Butley Oysterage, Orford) I can now add Ceili Cottage in the far east end of Toronto.

Owner Patrick McMurray holds the Guinness world record for the most oysters shucked in a minute (38 since you ask), is the author of Consider the Oyster: A Shucker’s Field Guide and describes himself as an ‘oyster sommelier’.

In his company I have just enjoyed a dozen of his finest: four from Hummock Island, Connecticut (deep shell, plump with upfront salt and a sugary finish); four from West Mersea, England (creamy, plump, minerally and melony) and four from Prince Edward Island, Ontario (clean, light, salty).

Best of all, I downed them with a pint of Barley Days Oyster Stout (ingredients: water, barley, hops, oatmeal, yeast and – yep – oysters). And because I was a good boy and didn’t adulterate any of the oysters with Tabasco, shallot vinegar or any other fancy sauce (of which Patrick deeply disapproves), he lobbed me another half dozen and even encouraged me to sip a dram of salty, tangy, Talisker out of the empty shells.

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