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James Close: If oysters be the food of love then get yourself to Lindisfarne

Michelin-starred chef James Close of The Raby Hunt Restaurant, Darlington offers a trio of serving options for Casanova's favourite breakfast dish

An oyster
An oyster

Oysters - love them or hate them, they are here to stay and their popularity is on the rise appearing on restaurant menus up and down the land.

The famous line goes “the bravest man the world ever saw, was a man that first ate an oyster raw”.

And that’s perhaps part of the joy of oysters – this definitely isn’t tofu – it’s alive, a living thing in a shell waiting to be consumed.

In a recent survey by charity Save the Children – 47% of people admitted to not even daring to try an oyster. This figure rises to 57% for women.

They have the highest levels of zinc in any food – and of course the man himself, Casanova, was rumoured to enjoy 50 for breakfast!

They take five years to grow but five seconds to eat – a salty tang of the sea and a splash of hot Tabasco is how I always take mine – but not 50 at a time.

When it comes to accurately evaluating an oyster’s quality, size and price tag aren’t big factors. My buying protocol is to seek out the freshest. Like any commodity that is still alive, it has a shelf life and immediately starts to depreciate in value as time passes.

The world is full of oyster varieties – but having eaten many of them in various locations around the world – I strongly believe here in the North we have the best in the world – Lindisfarne Oysters.

The Sutherland family have been growing oysters here for over 25 years, they grown them from the size of a thumbnail when they are transferred to oyster beds just off the shore between Bamburgh and Holy Island.

I understand that people are a bit squeamish about our bivalve molluscs so I’m hoping that my following recipes will help overcome that fear of the ‘raw’ texture people wince at.

Here at the Raby Hunt we serve ours a little differently – we slow cook them for almost an hour and add lots of interesting textures and tastes to complete the dish. Two of the following techniques have once upon a time been on the menu here at the Raby and of course the third way is simple – open them up and swallow.

Oysters as a rule should always be served with champagne – I don’t know why and I don’t really care but it works.

We serve ours with a little boutique vineyards champagne called Philipponnat – beautifully fresh, vibrant and fruity.

Raby Hunt Restaurant, Summerhouse, Darlington, 01325 374 237 or www.rabyhuntrestaurant.co.uk

Oysters three ways: Tempura, Parmesan and (of course) naked!

Find the best oysters you can – Lindisfarne if available. Buy as many as you need - three each if you want to try all the different recipes. You can buy an oyster shucker from any supermarket – Ask your fishmonger to show you how to open one – it’s pretty easy once you know how.

For the Tempura batter:

50g of Plain flower

35g cornflower

10g baking powder

Tsp curry powder

Tsp coriander seeds

Tsp cumin seeds

125ml Soda water.

Toast the spices in a frying pan and add all the ingredients together mixing quickly as the soda water is poured in.

Take the oyster from the shell and dip in batter – fry for four mins until golden brown and crispy.

For the Parmesan cream (this will cover six oysters)

50g double cream

10g parmesan

10g butter

Open the oyster and if they have too much juice, drain a little out. Add a spoonful of the cream and tiny bit of butter. Sprinkle over some parmesan and black pepper directly into the shell. Grill under the highest heat your grill can muster until the cheese is golden brown.

Finally, the naked oyster. Simply open and serve. You can always add red wine vinegar with some chopped shallots or a touch of Tabasco or even simply with a squeeze of lemon.

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