Oyster restaurants plan to send in the shuck troops

Friday is set to be a pearl of a day for oyster-lovers...

Six Sheffield chefs will be squaring up to discover who is the fastest blade in town - and challenge a British record.

Simon Wild, managing director of local gastro pub chain Brew Kitchen will be pitching his shucking knife against those of his chefs - Relish's Jack Baker, Danny Gower of Artisan, Craig Middleton of the Inn at Troway, Marco Caines from Totley's Cricket Inn and Champs' Craig Davies.

The lads will each have a dozen oysters to open as perfectly and as swiftly as possible - and the winner will then get to try his hand at a new British record. It's a tough one to crack; the current Tabasco-sponsored record stands at 30 oysters in three minutes, 18 seconds.

Hotly-tipped is Jack Baker, an oyster-lover who hails from Colchester, which is famous for its oysters.

"We thought it would be a fun way of celebrating the start of the 2011 oyster season but I'm very nervous; I have the scars on my hands to prove I'm not very good," admits Simon. "It's not an easy thing to do against the clock and they will have to be perfect, with plenty of juice retained and no bits of shell."

There are three ways to open an oyster, he says. "The safest way is to take the blade from the hinge to the back of the shell. Or you can go in from the front of the shell. I prefer to start at the side, where the mollusc is, but it is the easiest way to get an injury. The knife can go straight through the shell into your hand."

Diners can book a seat at the competition, which is being staged in fish restaurant Catch in Crosspool at 2pm, then tuck in. Freshly-shucked beauties will go on the menu in a variety of guises. Some will be deep-fried, others gratineed with caviar and champagne, or grilled in breadcrumbs and spinach, Rockefeller-style. Aficionados shouldn't fret though; there will be plenty to serve raw with a dash of shallot vinegar.

The oyster-fest continues on Friday and Saturday at Catch, Relish and the Cricket.

Oysters are rich in zinc, selenium and iron - and Brits have been fans since the 7th century.

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