Hot History Facts and Hot Fiction

Friday, January 17, 2014

Author Spotlight - Jo Thomas - The Oyster Catcher

It is my pleasure to welcome Jo Thomas to my blog today. She is on tour for her book The Oyster Catcher and what better way than to celebrate with oysters! I'm sure you'll enjoy these recipes.

Eating and cooking oysters.

On this blog tour I have talked about eating my first oyster, opening oysters, finding out if oysters really are the food of love and telling you about the festivals and competitions that celebrate the oyster.
Whilst I was living in Galway I was lucky enough to be invited to a charity gala dinner in a pop restaurant. It was an old church in Galway. It was to raise money for Galway Simon Community helping homeless people in the west of Ireland. It was a wonderful night. The room was decorated with white painted branches and candles, choirs sang and we ate a nine course meal created by some of the best chefs in Galway, including smoked Clarenbridge oyster mousette, a trio of beetroot, Connemara abalone, braised beef cheeks, alder and gooseberry sorbet, and rhubarb tartlet with wild burren hazelnut ice cream.  You’re getting the picture aren’t you? It was a meal that stayed with me.

When we arrived I was introduced to a wonderful red headed lady, Mairin Ui Chomain, born and brought up in Connemara. She was a broadcaster and food writer with a special love for seafood, in particular oysters. Mairin had written a book Irish Oyster Cuisine. Well, we got on like a house on fire and have stayed in touch ever since. Her book combines the history of the oyster and its farming communities across the west of Ireland and gives wonderful recipes too. Not only does the book give you a flavour of the area, the history, the importance of oyster farming in the region but you get a flavour for the Irish language as well. In The Oyster Catcher my heroine Fi makes a mushroom and oyster soup. This is Mairin’s recipe;
12-18 oysters , shells removed, juices strained and reserved.

25g/1oz butter

225g/8oz onions, grated

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into small pieces

225g/8oz button mushrooms, chopped

225 ml/8fl oz milk

225 ml/8 fl oz cream

Dash of Tabasco

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Paprika to garnish and fingers of hot buttered toast.

Melt the butter in the saucepan. Saute the onions over a moderate heat. Add potatoes and mushrooms until tender. Pour in the milk and mix well. Add the cream and carefully bring to the boil, mixing gently.
Reduce the heat. Add the oysters, juices, Tabasco, and seasoning and heat for 4-5 minutes.
Serve in warm bowls, sprinkle with paprika and serve with toast.
(Mairin says you can add a little white wine if the soup is too thick).

Or how about trying Kevin’s oyster pie (oyster and Guinness beef pie)

12 oysters, shells removed, juices strained and reserved.

2 tablespoons plain flour

Salt and freshly ground pepper

700g/1 ½ lb rib beef, cubed

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1-2 onions, finely chopped

225g/8oz mushrooms, chopped

423 ml/15 fl oz Guinness

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

200g/7oz ready-made puff pastry

Serve with green salad or baked potatoes

Season the flour and toss the beef in it. Heat the oil and when hot, add the beef to seal it. Remove the beef and fry the onions and mushrooms and then return the beef to the pan. Add the Guinness, Worcestershire sauce and oyster juices and season. Cover and simmer for about 1 ½ hours and then remove and allow to cool. Add the oysters.

Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/gas mark 6. Grease a deep pie dish. Pour in the mixture and cover with pastry. Crimp the edges and cut an air vent in the centre.
Bake for 15 minutes in centre of oven and then reduce heat to 180 C/350 F/gas mark 4 and bake for a further 30 minutes until the meat is heated through.
Or how about an oyster shot to get the party started;

1 oyster

1 ½ teaspoons vodka

4 tablespoons tomato juice

1 tablespoon of lime juice

3 drops Worcestershire sauce

1 drop of Tabasco

Mix the ingredients except the oyster in a shot glass. Then drop in a fresh, raw oyster before serving.

Or you could just enjoy your oysters, on ice, with a squeeze of lemon and some good brown bread and a glass of something very cold.

However you like them, enjoy! And don’t forget to chew!
(Ref: Irish Oyster Cuisine by Mairin Ui Chomain published by A&A Farmar)

Excerpt from The Oyster Catcher
Chapter One
The sea air hits me like mouthwash for the head. It’s clean, fresh, and smells of salt. I’m standing on the steps of the Garda station; or Portakabin really. The wind blows my hair and I hold my face up to it, letting any tears that may have escaped mingle with the damp air. With my eyes shut and my face held up to the wind I realise two things. One, I’m in a place called Dooleybridge and two; I am absolutely stranded wearing the only dress I have – the one I’d got married in.
I open my eyes, shiver and walk back towards the harbour wall where the camper van had been. There are some scuff marks on the wall and a headlight that had fallen off, but other than that there’s no real trace that it was ever there at all. I bend down and pick up the light. Oh, that’s the other thing I realised while being cautioned. There’s absolutely no way I can go home, no way at all.
I turn round and walk back towards the road; when I say walk, it’s more a hobble. My shoes are killing me and are splashing water up the back of my feet and calves. But then it isn’t really gold mule weather. It’s cold and wet and I couldn’t feel any more miserable than I already do. I head back up the hill and cross the road just below the Garda station and step down into a tiled doorway. I take a deep breath that hurts my chest and makes me cough. I have no other choice. I put my head down. I touch the cold brass panel on the door and with all the determination I can muster, push it open.
The door crashes against the wall as I fall in, making me and everyone else jump. As I land I realise it’s not so much the throng I was expecting but a handful of people. All eyes are on me. A hot rash travels up my chest and into my cheeks making them burn and inside I cringe. I feel like I’ve walked on to the set of a spaghetti western and the piano player has stopped playing. ‘Sorry,’ I mouth and shut the door very gently behind me. My stomach’s churning like a washing machine on spin cycle. I look round the open-plan pub. At one end is a small fireplace and despite it supposedly being summer there’s a fire in the grate giving out a brave, cheery, orange glow against the chilly atmosphere. There’s an unfamiliar smell in the air, earthy yet sweet. In the grate there are lumps of what look like earth burning on the fire. Back home I’d just flick on the central heating but home is a very long way away right now. There’s wood panelling all across the front of the bar, above it, below it and round the walls. When I say wood panelling, it’s tongue and groove pine that’s been stained dark. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to be full of cigarette smoke but isn’t. In the corner by the fire there’s a small group of people, all of them as old as Betty from Betty’s Buns. Or as it’s now known The Coffee House. Betty’s my employer, or should that be ex-employer?
Betty refuses to take retirement and sits on a stall at the end of the counter, looking like Buddha. She’s never been able to give up the reins on the till. She did once ask me to take over as manager but I turned it down. I’m not one for the limelight. I’m happy back in the kitchen. Kimberly, who works the counter, tried for the job but Sandra from TGI Friday’s got it and Kimberly took up jogging and eating fruit. The group by the fire is still staring at me, just like Betty keeping her beady eye on her till.
There are two drinkers at the bar, one in an old tweed cap and jacket with holes in the elbows, the other in a thin zip-up shell suit and a baseball cap. They’ve turned to stare at me too. With burning cheeks and the rash still creeping up my chest, I take a step forward and then another. It feels like a game of grandmother’s footsteps as their eyes follow me too. The barmaid’s wiping glasses and smiles at me. I feel ridiculously grateful to see a friendly face. It’s not her short dyed white hair that makes her stand out or the large white daisy tucked behind one ear. It’s the fact she’s probably in her early twenties I’d say, not like any of her customers.
A couple of dogs come barking at me from behind the bar. I step back. One is black with stubby legs, a long body and a white stripe down its front. The other is fat and looks a bit like a husky crossed with a pot-bellied pig.
I’m not what you’d call brave really. I’ve always thought it was better to try and skirt conflict rather than face it head on. I look for someone or something to hide behind but the barmaid steps in.
‘Hey, settle down,’ she snaps. She might be small but she’s got a mighty bark. Unsurprisingly the dogs return behind the bar, tails between their legs. I think I’d’ve done the same if she told me to.
‘Now then, what can I get you?’ she wipes her hands on a tea towel and smiles again.
‘Um …’ I go to speak but nothing comes out. I clear my dry throat and try again.
‘I’m looking for …’ I look down at the piece of paper in my hand, the back of a parking ticket. ‘Sean Thornton?’ I look back at the barmaid.

Blurb for The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas
According to a champion shell shucker, when trying to open an oyster you first have to understand what’s keeping it closed.
When runaway bride Fiona Clutterbuck crashes the honeymoon camper van, she doesn’t know what to do or where to go.
Embarrassed and humiliated Fiona knows one thing for sure, she can’t go home. Being thrown a life line, a job on an oyster farm seems to be the answer to her prayers.  But nothing could prepare her for the choppy ride ahead or her new boss the wild and unpredictable Sean Thornton.
Will Fiona ever be able to come out of her shell?
As the oyster season approaches, will there be love amongst the oyster beds of Galway bay? Or will the circling sharks finally close in?

Buying links:

Bio for Jo Thomas – The Oyster Catcher.
Jo Thomas started her broadcasting career as a reporter and co-presenter with Rob Brydon on BBC Radio 5, reported for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and went on to produce at BBC Radio 2 working on The Steve Wright Show.  She now lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her writer and producer husband, three children, three cats and a black lab Murray.  She writes light hearted romances about food, family, friendships and love; and believes every story should have a happy ending.
Twitter: @jo_thomas01

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