Sex, Death and Oysters: A Half-Shell Lover's World Tour

Rob Walsh's new book on oysters is no shell game

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Few foods offer as much ground for debate as the oyster: Some say they're good for the libido; others say that's hogwash. You should only eat them in winter–or they're good anytime of year. And depending on where you eat them, they're a mark of luxury–or a humble peasant food.

In his latest book, Sex, Death and Oysters: A Half-Shell Lover's World Tour, peripatetic food writer Robb Walsh sifts through the lore for answers. He travels to Ireland, France, California, New York, New Orleans and Texas–and from oyster bay to oyster bar–to seek out the world's best oysters and to investigate these myths firsthand. (He even uses himself and his girlfriend as case studies to explore the oyster's aphrodisiacal properties. The couple wedded shortly after the experiment, confirming, at least, the placebo affect.)

Walsh, the restaurant critic for the Houston Press, likes his oysters big. But he learns it's not just size that matters; it's also maturity, merroir (the aquatic equivalent of terroir) and seasonality. He warns against eating oysters in the hot summer months, which gives renewed credence to the adage against eating raw oysters in months that don't end in "r" (they're safe, just not as tasty). But there's no reason to give up cooked oysters in the summer: The book also includes famous recipes, such as Oysters Rockefeller and Oyster Pan Roast. At least their deliciousness is something we can all agree on.