Happy Valentine’s Day! A Roman oyster recipe

The Romans seem to have been very fond of oysters. In Britain, we find large numbers of oyster shells on Roman sites, particularly on temples. This is interesting as shellfish seems to have been avoided as a foodstuff in Britain after the Mesolithic. The presence of oyster shells, then, on sites in the Roman period represents a big change in tastes and food rules.

Apicius (9.VI) gives us a recipe for oyster sauce.

in ostreis: piper ligusticum oui uitellum acetum liquamen oleum et uinum. Si uolueris et mel addes.

 Sauce for oysters: pepper, lovage, egg yolk, vinegar, liquamen, oil and wine. You can also add honey if you like.

Oyster shells and a mussel shell from Roman Cirencester (courtesy of Corinium Museum).

Oyster shells and a mussel shell from Roman Cirencester (courtesy of Corinium Museum).

If you want to make this yourself, buy fresh oysters and open them as close to the time of eating as possible. The oysters can be served raw, or baked in their shell (we think the Romans preferred to bake theirs).


Fresh oysters

Pinch of ground black pepper

Pinch of lovage seeds (celery seeds will do, if you can’t find lovage)

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp Thai fish sauce

1tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp white wine

1 tbsp honey (optional)


To make the sauce, mix a pinch of pepper and lovage with egg yolks. Then add the vinegar a drop at a time, as if making a mayonnaise. Finally, add in the olive oil and white wine, so that you get a smooth sauce. Season with the Thai fish sauce, to taste. Add in the honey, if you want a sweeter sauce. Serve immediately.

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