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Ireland’s Leading Independent Food & Hospitality Guide
In the latest of a series which shows how to get the best from particular food and beer pairings, our expert columnist and food blogger KRISTIN JENSEN gives her tips on matching Stout and Oysters - a classic partnership that offers plenty of scope for imaginative variations
A pint of stout and a dozen oysters is one of life’s little luxuries. We now think of stout and oysters as an upscale, elegant pairing, but the origins of this match are quite humble. In the 18th and 19th centuries, oysters were commonplace and cheap, food for the working classes.
It was only when oyster beds started becoming exhausted towards the beginning of the 20th century, and hence oysters became scarcer and more expensive, that they became the delicacy we think of them as today.
At the same time as the oyster beds were flourishing, so, too, was stout and the two were often served together in pubs and taverns as a kind of cheap and cheerful meal or bar snack. The bitter, roasted, smooth flavour of a dry Irish stout is a beautiful contrast to the creamy, salty, sweet oysters.
‘One can almost imagine the beer as the knife that cracks the oyster open – there seems to be a primal connection between them. The flavour of the oyster is magically magnified and fills the senses,’ writes Garrett Oliver in The Brewmaster’s Table.
And then there are oyster stouts. This can refer either to a beer designed to be sipped alongside oysters or to a stout with oysters added directly to it. Some brewers just use the shells (as a clarifying agent), while others add the oyster itself.
The result is often a barely discernible brininess and a more full-bodied mouthfeel from the protein in the oyster. Try one for yourself and see – in Ireland, Porterhouse makes an oyster stout, with fresh oysters shucked directly into the conditioning tank.
Native Irish oysters are in season now through March. There are several oyster festivals throughout Ireland at this time of year, and you can be sure that stout will feature prominently. The most famous (and the world’s longest-running) is the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival, which takes place on 26–29 September this year.
Also in County Galway is the Clarenbridge Oyster Festival. In Northern Ireland, the Hillsborough International Oyster Festival takes place in September too, while the Carlingford Oyster Festival in County Louth is held in August. The festivals are a great day out – and a great opportunity to enjoy the classic stout and oyster pairing.
Galway Oysters Thermidore, Artisan Style
recipe courtesy of chef Mark Campbell and Matt Skeffington, owner of Artisan
Makes 18 oysters
With the addition of some Galway Hooker pale ale to the sauce, this recipe is like a Welsh rarebit for oysters. Artisan says you can spice this up by adding some cayenne pepper to the flour.
1 shallot, finely chopped
25g plain flour
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh chervil or parsley
1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
125ml Galway Hooker pale ale (or any craft pale ale)
splash of cream
100g Killen Ballinnasloe soft Cheddar Cheese, grated
lemon wedges, to serve
Preheat the grill. Open the oysters, discard the top shell and loosen the oysters, leaving them in the half shell. Place the oysters on a baking tray.
Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the chopped shallots and cook on a low heat for 4–5 minutes, until softened but without colouring.
Sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and gradually add the milk. Return to the heat and bring to the boil, whisking until the sauce is thickened and smooth.
Reduce the heat and stir in the mustard and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and whisk in the ale and cream, then return to a low heat and stir until thickened.
Place a tablespoon of the mixture in each oyster, then sprinkle the cheese over the top. Cook under the preheated grill until golden and hot. Serve with lemon wedges.
Kristin Jensen is a freelance editor specialising in cookery and food books and has worked with many of Ireland's top food writers and chefs. She writes the Edible Ireland blog and is a co-founder of the Irish Food Bloggers Association