Putting flavor into live raw oysters seems so brilliant, yet sort of obvious, and more than anything else... so cool. We just had to try it out. Reading Arnold's recipe gave a set of guidelines which would make it more or less foolproof. If you're going to spend dollars importing nice quality oysters, you want at least a slight guarantee that you'll get results. If you have fresh live oysters sitting in your seafood cooler, give it a test run.
I emailed my friend, Dave Hebert (certified marine biologist), in New Orleans who owns H2Oyster (a company that regularly tests the Louisiana coastal oyster beds for various environmental factors that directly affect the safety of the product). He couldn't readily name any elements that would prove severely caustic for the oysters within the 2 hour 'feeding' time before serving. Oysters can filter (this is how they feed) up to 3 gallons of water an hour. That's a lot for a little bivalve... what a pumping system! In addition, if the oysters have been harvested within a week the chances of successful filtering are better. In cases such as oil spills in oyster beds, the oysters have been noted to take on an 'off' flavor... but, that flavor corrects itself within a week of so afterwards. My initial questions as to what would prove caustic to the oysters included factors such as pH and salinity, but Dave had me thinking about fats as well. The power of these little power pumps is often under estimated. Even after the millions of gallons of toxic water was backwashed from New Orleans back into the natural waterways after hurricane Katrina, there was high concern over the effects on the oyster industry. These worries were short-lived when it became apparent, through testing, that the oysters were back to their normal state in a brief period of time. When infusing your oysters, the feeding should occur a couple of hours before serving, and extreme caution should be taken with oysters that have perished. Use your head while attempting this if any raw oysters are to be consumed. Serving raw oysters always entails certain risks, so you don't want to be lackadaisical.
We ordered in some pickle point oysters from Prince Edward Island, Canada. These are obviously cold water oysters, rather small, with a great salty/sweet flavor. The fact that they were from Pickle Point plus our recent trials with pickle juice gels brought us to awareness of the obvious, yet missed, perfect pairing of oysters and pickles (they're salty, briny, with a bit of acetic acid... not to mention the dill). We submerged some of the animals in pickle brine for a couple of hours, shucked them, rinsed them, and were happy with the subtle, but balanced, burst of pickle flavor melded with the natural oyster nuances. A topping of compressed Jewish pickle and bacon powder dressed them up to be served.
Here's the little oysters' story told in pictures...
Tasting these side by side with un-infused oysters (hey, somebody's got to do the taste test!) was enough proof that this is worth trying out with many other flavor combinations. It seems that almost any liquid can be pumped through the oyster's digestive system. If they are to be served immediately, then the effects on the oyster itself do not seem to be a huge factor with food safety if proper time and temperature rules are adhered to.
Oh yeah, and the Jewish pickles... those were a nod to counter cukes at the recently closed down Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House just a few blocks down the street from us. They've been saluted in the latest edition of Saveur. We simply took the brine (white vinegar, sugar, water, dill) and compressed some cucumber with it before slicing it paper thin. Yes, Jewish pickles served on shellfish with bacon powder... fantastic.