This renowned baked oyster dish was created at Antoine's Restaurant in New Orleans in 1899 by the proprietor, Jules Alciatore. | Marc Fosh


The Olivar market in Palma has been in a period of transition over the last few years as the old style, classic market stalls are slowly giving way to a more diverse offering with several Sushi stands and oyster bars opening. Just last Saturday one of the stands was packed with people enjoying a glass of champagne or cava with a dozen or so freshly opened oysters.

I know it’s sometimes difficult to accept change, but I do think this is a welcome innovation as it gives people another reason to visit the market. It all seems very decadent now to be eating expensive oysters and swigging a glass of champagne and it made me think about the oyster’s humble beginnings.

A saltwater bivalve with a sea-salty flavour and a succulent texture, oysters were once the food of the poor and were mainly used to bulk out dishes such as pies, soups, and stews. They were even fed to the inmates of London’s prisons!

Believe it or not, through much of human history, oysters have been a very common foodstuff, bountiful in supply and easy to catch. Around the world, archaeologists have found piles of “household garbage” dating back thousands of years before the pyramids were built, which contain mounds of oyster shells.

In the Roman Empire, oyster farming developed as a technology in Italy and France, utilizing a complex system of channels and locks to control the sea tide. From there it spread across Europe and became particularly popular in the British Isles.

Colchester, briefly the capital of Roman Britain and has held an annual Oyster Feast since the 14th century. Ancient Greeks used to serve oysters as an incentive to drink and many cultures still consider oysters to be an aphrodisiac. Supplies decreased into the 20th century and now this shellfish is highly prized.

Aficionados insist that they’re best eaten raw, perhaps with freshly ground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice or a drop of Tabasco sauce. However, they can be steamed, grilled or poached too, and they make excellent canapés. Oysters can be battered into tempura, simmered into a sauce to serve with robust flavours such as beef or pork or even cooked with cream and fresh herbs such as sorrel.

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The flavour and texture of their sweet tender flesh depends on type and the waters in which they are reared. The French claim theirs are the best (but then again…. they would!) Belons are from the river finistère while the Bretons and Isigny are from northern France.

The English make similar claims with their Colchester’s and whitstables, the irish with their Galway Bay’s and the Dutch and Belgians with their seelands and Ostends. Only use oysters that are tightly shut in their shells or which close when tapped.

Any oysters that stay open are dead and should be thrown away. Once you have your oysters opened, it’s a nice idea to serve them with two or three different dressings.

Oysters Rockefeller

This renowned baked oyster dish was created at Antoine's Restaurant in New Orleans in 1899 by the proprietor, Jules Alciatore. According to legend, it was named in honour of John D. Rockefeller, at that time one of the world's richest men, because of the sauce's intense flavour & richness.

Serves 4 as a starter

  • 12 fresh oysters in the shell
  • 150g Unsalted butter, plus a little extra for finishing
  • 2 Shallots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 1 Stick of Celery, finely chopped
  • 2tbsp finely chopped flat-leafed parsley
  • 100g fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 150g breadcrumbs or panko
  • 200ml Pernod
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Open the oysters; discard the top shell and loosen the meat. Set them aside in the shell, covered and in the fridge, keeping them in their juice. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over a medium heat and add the shallots, garlic, and celery. Cook gently for 2 minutes. Add the parsley and spinach, and cook until wilted. Pour in the Pernod and flame, then season with salt and pepper. Pre-heat the grill to medium. Pop a spoonful of the Rockefeller mixture onto each oyster. Sprinkle each one with breadcrumbs. Top with a small dot of butter and nestle the oyster onto rock salt. Grill for 3 minutes until nicely glazed and serve immediately.

Pomegranate, tomato, chili & lime dressing

  • 2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
  • 1 tomato, de-seeded & diced
  • ½ red chili, finely chopped
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 tsp chopped mint
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Shallot oyster dressing

  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1tsp finely chopped chives
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Stir together the vinegar in a small bowl with the chopped shallots, chives, olive oil and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bloody Mary oyster dressing

  • 150ml thick tomato juice
  • 1tsp horseradish, finely grated
  • 1 tbsp dry sherry
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • A few drops Tabasco sauce

For the Bloody Mary dressing, place all the ingredients in another small bowl and stir well to combine. To serve, place the small bowls of dressing into the centre of a platter of crushed ice, and arrange the shucked oysters around the side. Garnish with lemon wedges, and extra Tabasco sauce.