The Galway Oyster Festival - Sept 23rd -25th
GALWAY OYSTER FESTIVAL
It’s oyster time! The old rule of thumb of gastronomes and oyster lovers tells us that oysters should only be eaten in months with an ‘r’ in them. In these days of farmed oysters, this rule doesn’t really apply anymore, as cultivated oysters are available most of the year. But in the calendar of the native oyster – oysters which are ‘native’ around to the Irish coast, the rule means that in the months of May, June, July, and August, oysters are not eaten to allow for breeding. September is traditionally a month which heralds the start of the oyster season.
The Galway Oyster Festival takes place in this important month for oyster lovers. Back in September 1954, when the first festival was first launched as the Oyster Festival Banquet, just 34 guests troughed their way through dozens of oysters each. The 2012 festival attracted a crowd of 22000 to savour the beauty and flavour of the Galway native oyster.
This year, the Galway city centre based festival happens on September 23rd-25th, one of the most famous festivals in Ireland and certainly ranking as one of the best festivals in Europe.
Big names at the Galway Oyster Festival over the years include American comedian Bob Hope, American actor John Huston, chefs Richard Corrigan, Clodagh McKenna and Fishy Fishy’s Martin Shanahan, as well as Irish rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll and President Michael D. Higgins.
You don’t have to be a big name though, to enjoy this festival. A full programme is available online, but here are a few highlights to whet your appetite over a weekend which celebrates the Galway native oyster in all it’s glory!
The World Oyster Opening Championships, 2pm Saturday 24th September
If you’ve never seen an expert open an oyster, this is the event for you. Oysters can be tricky to ‘shuck’, which is the proper word for opening the tightly closed shell. If you are a layman, it requres a special knife with a guard to prevent injury, and a cloth to wrap around your hand as you prize the knifepoint into the tiny crack of the upper and lower shell and twist it, to break the grip of the tight muscle which keeps the oyster closed when it’s not in water.
It could take a few minutes to finally get the knack of opening one oyster. But the guys who compete in the Oyster Opening Championships are like lightning. A world record set in Canada in 2014 saw 8,800 oysters shucked in one hour by a team of ten. Can the champions in Galway beat that this year?!
Masquerade Mardi Gras 8pm Saturday 24th September
A proper masked ball starting at the Galway Arts Centre with an oyster and prosecco reception, before moving on in a Mardi Gras parade to the Festival Marquee for the main course. Booking essential.
Feile Bia Na Mara – Wild Atlantic Tastes, Family Day Sunday 25th September
Feile Bia Na Mara means 'Seafood Festival' in Irish, and this year’s theme is Wild Atlantic Tastes. A day for all the family to enjoy the magic of Galway and it’s wonderful coastline, plus the food which comes from local waters. Cooking demos, live music and performance and heaps of family fun to be had.
HOW TO EAT AN OYSTER
The classic way to eat an oyster is freshly shucked and eaten live and raw, straight from the shell. This captures all the natural salty tastes of the oyster flesh and the clean waters in which it has grown.
There are also some traditional accompaniments for serving your oysters. A first course serving portion is six, while a main course is a dozen.
Serve oysters raw on the deep half shell on a bed of crushed ice, accompanied by a fresh wedge of lemon or lime for squeezing over before you swallow.
A fresh wedge of lemon and a little freshly grated horseradish gives a peppery bite.
Finely chopped shallots and Tabasco Sauce are typical accompaniments, sprinkled over the oyster flesh before you down it.
Sauce Mignonette is a classic French sauce of finely chopped shallot in red or white wine vinegar with the addition of cracked black peppercorns.
A Bloody Mary shot is now a hip thing to serve with oysters. Mini shot glasses full of the typical Bloody Mary mix of tomato juice and vodka flavoured with Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire Sauce, lime juice and black pepper. The idea is you swallow the oysters then down the shot immediately afterwards.
If you prefer your oysters cooked, you can spoon over some hollandaise sauce on to the oysters in the shell, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, then grill under a pre-heated very hot grill till the top is golden and the oyster flesh is just opaque.
Here are Three Ways to Cook Oysters
GOOD FOOD IRELAND MEMBERS TO VISIT IN GALWAY
Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy some great local seafood at these Galway city based members during your visit to the festival.