We’ve been chatting about sexy-time aphrodisiacs on my FaceBook page. The latest earth shattering revelation is the herb supplement Horny Goat Weed, which I found glaring at me on a Walgreens shelf as I was looking for other stuff – no seriously, I was looking for other stuff.

Oysters with Rasam Gelée

Oysters on the half shell with Southern Indian rasam flavored gelée

If you can’t find this supplement don’t worry because Cheryl, a FB buddy, suggested oysters instead! And this year I plan on keeping the Valentine’s menu light, pretty, and sexy. No short ribs and all-butter mashed potatoes and no heart stopping chocolate cake. There will be no food coma to follow dinner. Uh-huh. No way. Lights are stayin’ on…

About this fire water gelée: my recipe is based on the Southern Indian version of ‘rasam’ which is a spicy tomato broth that is infused with a sweet & sour salivary kick from fresh tamarind pulp and some herbacious heat from: fresh curry leaves, fresh cilantro, mustard & cumin seed, red pepper pods and ginger. Traditionally it also has asafoetida, but I have left this out here.

Oysters on the half shell with a tiny leaf of cilantro covered in rasam gelee

Oysters on the half shell with a tiny leaf of cilantro covered in rasam gelée

When I lived/worked in Southern India we often had this tomato tonic for breakfast served with a mound of beautiful white rice (like I have never seen before and probably will never see again!) and heaps of stewed veggies. Rasam awakens the dullest of senses, lifts the spirit, and gets your butt out of bed (or into it?)

This broth has many untraditional uses as I’ve discovered. It’s great for: fish stews, steamed mussels, cocktails (think ‘Bloody Mary’ but served up in a martini glass with vodka or tequila), savory gelées, and adding complexity to tomato soup recipes. It has a delicate tomato color (you can intensify the color if desired with tomato paste), but the flavor is bursting and seriously sex-a-licious.

Tamarind pods and curry leaves give rasam broth a lemony-sweet tang and a subtle bitter flavor

Tamarind pods and curry leaves give rasam broth a lemony-sweet tang and a subtle bitter flavor

What’s not sex-a-licious are oysters that have been opened by a hack. This infuriates me when I receive oysters that have been washed, or look like mince meat, or the bottom muscle is still attached. And then it upsets whoever I’m dining with because I send the oysters back to the kitchen. This just happened last night in fact – ask my husband about it– the restaurant charged $3.50 an oyster and sent out a plate of regurgitated washed bivalves. Really? Really?!?! I’m getting upset just thinking about it…

I’m going to talk you through opening an oyster if you haven’t tried before:

French oysters (from Brittany) like it from the side. c’est vrai, hein? They are almost impossible to open from the back hinge and until you know where to find the right spot to wheedle the knife point in; you will crack shells and make a mess and cut yourself. I’m going to leave out the French cancale oysters for now because we rarely see them in California.

Gently wheedle tip of oyster knife in the hinge

Gently wheedle tip of oyster knife in the hinge

American oysters like it from behind. And they are really easy to open. Place the oyster in a towel on a flat surface with the lid facing up and the cupped bottom secure in the folds. With one hand hold the oyster steady across the top (this is less risky than placing it in your hand like my photo above). With your other hand take the tip of your oyster knife – JUST THE TIP – do not try and jam the whole thing in there and gently work the point in between the back hinge.

BE NICE! That oyster is going to give it up when it’s ready and not before. Now that you’ve got the point wedged in, see if you can slide it just a centimeter more. WAIT. The oyster will release its seal. When you feel this – and you will feel the tension release – then pop the lid up.

Slide knife blade along lid through muscle on the right to unhinge from top shell

Slide knife blade along lid through muscle on the right to unhinge from top shell

Now, that you’ve popped the lid up (but not off – if you do that in one motion you’re going to destroy half the oyster because there’s a muscle connecting the bivalve to each shell) run the knife blade against the top of the lid slicing the connecting muscle cleanly off that is slightly to the right side. It looks like a little white circle in my picture below.See it?

Discard the lid, now take your knife and unhinge the oyster from the bottom shell. Again, it’s just a small white circular muscle. Scrape close to the bottom of the shell and leave no connecting tissue. I like to see the oyster in all its glory unwashed and untwisted. I don’t understand why many restaurants trim the beard around the bivalve. I’m happy to say that Guy Savoy and Le Bernardin don’t shave their oysters. I like all those pretty ruffles!

Kusshi Oysters on the half shell

Kusshi Oysters on the half shell

An oyster will release two liquors: one when it is first opened and another a few minutes later. If you do have to rinse it because there’s sand or mud (which there shouldn’t be) then do it quickly after its opened and let them sit for a few minutes (in the refrigerator) until the second liquor is released. I don’t condone this, I’m just sayin’ if you have to … and don’t forget to smell the oyster after it’s been opened. It should smell oceany and not like a rotting-fish-in-the-sun-with-flies-buzzing-around-it.

Oysters should be stored in a perforated pan over ice. Not in ice. Shellfish are alive and need air or aerated salt water tanks to live. Storing them in a tied plastic bag will kill ’em. Kusshi, Beau Soleil, and Kumamotos are the easiest to open. And they are all small and super cute. Beau Soleils are great for those trying oysters for the first time because they are delicate in flavor and not very meaty so they go down the hatch easy. But they are very flat with not a lot of substance. Kusshi and Kumos have a little more va va voom..

Happy Shucking!




  • 12 to 24 oysters, shucked
  • For the Rasam Fire Water Gelée:
  • 5 over ripe heirloom red tomatoes
  • 1 small 1-inch nub of young ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, shaved thin on a mandolin
  • 5 fresh curry leaves
  • The stalks from one bunch of cilantro (reserve leaves)
  • 5 medium pods of tamarind (about 4 to 5-inches in length), husked
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed, toasted (black mustard seeds if can find them)
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seed, toasted
  • 1/2 tablespoon smoked hot hungarian paprika
  • 2 red chili pods
  • 5 leaves of gelatin

For the rasam fire water gelée:

Peel the shell off the tamarind pods and pull off any stringy bits. Place the pulp (and the seeds) in a small sauce pan and cover with water by 1/4-inch. Bring to a simmer and cook for ten minutes stirring frequently until the pulp is softened.

In a vita-prep, blend the ripe tomatoes skin and all, until pulverized. Pour into a medium sauce pot and bring to a slow simmer. Add curry leaves, shaved garlic, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, chili pods and paprika. Add all of the tamarind pulp plus liquid and stir to incorporate.

Taste the tomato soup. It should have a nice balance between tangy-sweet and salty-bitter. Adjust seasoning. With a double layered cheesecloth or a kitchen towel, line a strainer over a medium bowl. Pour rasam into the lined strainer and squeeze liquid through it until nothing is left but the solids, which can be discarded.

In a small separate bowl, rehydrate the gelatin leaves in cold water until they are soft. Measure out a half litre (500 ml) of rasam broth and bring to a simmer whisking in hydrated gelatin leaves until dissolved. Pour liquid into a 9 x 11 inch sheet tray to the eight of 1/4-inch and refrigerate. When rasam broth is firm cut lines horizonatally and vertically to 1/4-inch to make squares.

Place shucked oysters on a bed of ice or gros sel or kosher salt. Spoon gelée over right before serving. Garnish with micro cilantro if desired.