Out of your shell for an oyster odyssey with Hardeep Singh Kohli
PUBLISHED: 17:00 12 September 2017
It was almost 35 years ago yet I still can’t believe my dad let me do it. I can’t have been much more than 14 years old.
I was desperate to visit my favourite cousins in Dublin and I think my parents had probably jumped at the chance to get rid of me over that Easter in 1983. And while parents today worry about teenager crossing main roads in Hampstead, Didsbury or Marchmont, that was a different age. It was less a journey and more an adventure; an Odyssey.
The easiest way to get to Dublin, the most straightforward was to travel south west from Glasgow to the beautiful Dumfries and Galloway and across to an isthmus where the town of Stranraer is to be found. From here a ferry was boarded across the Irish Sea to Larne, onward to Belfast by bus before taking a train south to Dublin.
I’ve always found a more pronounced romance about ferry ports; the sea excites with an immediacy somehow lacking from coach or train stations. Growing up in Glasgow the mere mention of Stranraer would conjure Emerald Isle images and excitement.
But alas some years ago the service stopped from Stranraer, moving a few miles up the coast. As is so often the case, small towns become so heavily reliant on such a constant, crucial and defining industry; there were worries that the town would struggle to find life after the ferry. Dumfries and Galloway, despite its beauty and amazing local produce is oft overlooked as a tourist destination. It’s secluded beauty means that one is unlikely to discover the area unless you go there. Luckily I had been there. Quite a few times.
Instead of doom and gloom the good folk of Stranraer got their heads together and came up with the notion of the Stranraer Oyster Festival. Yum. Believed to be Scotland’s first oyster festival, it marks the start of the eight-month long oyster season. This year the festival runs from Friday September 15 to 17.
Stranraer has Scotland’s only native oyster fishery and as a port town a rich tradition in all types of seafood.
I realise that unlike me, not everyone has a deep and delicious love for the oyster. While it is much vaunted as an aphrodisiac, I’ve seldom found a greater love than that I have for the oyster itself. I know some folk struggle with the uncooked texture but I always suggest they try, as an entry level, the cooked oyster. The classic cooked version, The Rockerfeller smooths the way for the less adventurous eater. Ondine in Edinburgh serve a delicious tempura Oyster and it is that dish that has inspired my Oyster Pakora.
A dozen fat oysters
100g gram flour, sieved
1 tsp of salt
2 tsp of garam masala
1 tsp of turmeric
2 chillies, finely chopped
Handful of coriander staks , chopped
1 tsp of cumin seeds
½ tsp of red chilli powder
Oil for deep frying
Blend all the dry ingredients using the tonic water to create a tempura-style batter. This should have a dropping consistency. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for an hour. Heat the oil and test its readiness by dropping in a cube of bread, The bread should fry immediately thus showing the readiness of the oil.
Work the batter just to loosen it up and carefully dip each oyster in, covering completely while shaking off any lumps of batter. Deep fry no more than a few at a time, allowing the oil to come back up to heat between batches.