Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters celebrates every aspect of our beautiful shores and waterways with a programme of activity designed to inspire both visitors and locals to explore and experience everything that make them special.
Each month we’re showcasing the people who live, work and have a passion for our waters and as February is the month of ‘love’ it felt fitting to speak to someone with a strong connection to the famed and scientifically proven aphrodisiac – the oyster!
For February we spoke to Tristan Hugh-Jones of The Loch Ryan Oyster Fishery Co., situated in south west Scotland. Tristan is the Seafood Scotland Oyster Shucking Champion, a competition which takes place every year at the Stranraer Oyster Festival. We wanted to find out why the Scottish native oyster, and more widely our seafood, is the best in the world and how we should all be eating them this Valentine’s Day…
What’s unique about Scottish oysters?
Our Loch Ryan oysters have a delicious nutty taste, and are very slow growing, taking about 10 years to get to a market size. It's the last self-sustaining native oyster fishery in Scotland and has been under the Wallace family ownership since 1701. Oysters are being sent all over Europe from here to help restore other native oyster beds.
How do Scotland’s waters and coastal environment add to the flavour of oysters harvested in Scotland?
Scotland has some of the cleanest waters in Europe. The areas oysters are grown are often remote, and the water quality is very good. With the warmer waters moving from the south, there is still a good supply of food, giving the oyster their unique taste, and having enough food to fill the shell well.
As the current Oyster Shucking Champion, what is your top tip on opening an oyster?
A good knife is essential. It should be a short stumpy, but very strong blade and with a point. When pushing at the hinge, the blade should be gently moved side to side first, and only after it has moved in about 1 - 2 centimetres, then it can be twisted to snap the hinge. If twisted too early the tip of the knife snaps off.
Did you feel the pressure when you competed in the Seafood Scotland Oyster Shucking Championships at the Stranraer Oyster Festival?
Absolutely! I mostly shuck low numbers, very beautifully, when I show our oysters to chefs. But to have to open well, and at a high speed, is certainly a challenge. With the crowd at the Stranraer Oyster Festival cheering on, it was tricky to stay focused.
What’s your favourite accompaniment and way to eat an oyster?
I mostly eat them as they are, it is a pity to spoil such a fantastic natural flavour. But after the first half dozen, I may squeeze fresh lemon, or have just one drop of Tabasco.
More generally, as part of the Scottish seafood industry, what do you think makes our seafood so well respected all over the world?
I think Scottish seafood is well respected. Our water quality is exceptional, and the oysters are well fished and have a very good shape. It's efficiently harvested and packed, and rushed to nearby airports. The produce can land on the other side of the world almost as quickly as being transported around the UK, which makes the fresh market so attractive.
What’s the best part of your job?
The variation of each day is huge. Some days it's the science of breeding oysters, others can be spent fishing them. At the start of the season on 1 September I'm in London selling oysters to restaurants, and then by mid-September, selling to the public at our oyster festival, or competing again!
Do you have a favourite Scottish seafood restaurant and why?
I recently dined at Rogano, Glasgow, to discuss the restoration of the native oyster beds in the Dornoch Firth, with the DEEP project, and had a most memorable meal. The service was exceptional.
Do you have a favourite place or memory connected to Scotland’s coasts or waters?
About 25 years ago I stayed on the north east tip of Lismore for a New Year, and I remember the magical colours over the sea, back towards the mainland to the east. The mountains had snow on their peaks in the distance, and the golden reds / browns from the land were superb. I had to phone chefs to get their oyster orders for the next delivery on 2 January, and I cut two pieces of wood to make a desk. The wood balanced across the phone box (the old-school red ones – remember those?), my order book was open, the door just shut, and I spent several hours of heaven, looking over the sea whilst whishing my customers a Happy New Year.