It's St Valentines Day tomorrow, and I have always thought that going out to a restaurant for an intimate dîner à deux on 14 February is a bit of a rip-off – some restaurants seem to think it's a good excuse to charge a small fortune for expensive food and champagne.
But after eight years of giving you my ideas for romantic recipes, you can perhaps understand why I might have slightly run out of steam when it comes to suggesting what to cook for your loved one or partner.
So this year I have decided to focus simply on oyster recipes. Oysters are supposed to be an amazing aphrodisiac, although as far as I'm concerned almost any food can excite the senses; it all depends on how it's cooked and who you're with...
You can buy good fresh oysters from quality fishmongers across the UK. My friend Robin Hancock, who runs Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House in London's Borough Market, is making the most of St Valentine's Day this year. This afternoon, outside the oyster bar, he will be selling a dozen Valentine's Day Brownsea Island rock oysters from Poole Bay, all nicely packed and ribboned for £15. They make a great gift for a partner – and what's more, you get to eat them, too. For more details of other oyster-related gifts, visit wrightbros.eu.com.
I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to oysters and I wouldn't suggest that you make the following recipes with natives, as they are just far too expensive to mess around with. Instead, choose cheaper, imported oysters. And try to find reasonably small ones if you can – I find that the very large oysters which are too big to slide into your mouth can be rather off-putting, especially if you're planning on having a romantic evening...
Oysters with bacon and spinach
This is a simpler version of the classic dish Oysters Rockefeller – the American dish in which oysters on the half shell are combined with other ingredients (sometimes breadcrumbs) and baked. This combination works a treat and I could eat this any day of the week.
6 oysters, shucked and shells and juices reserved
A good knob of butter
2 rashers of rindless, smoked streaky bacon, finely chopped
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
150g spinach, picked, washed and cooked in boiling, salted water for 3 minutes
120-150ml double cream
1tbsp grated Parmesan
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, gently cook the bacon in the butter for 2-3 minutes without colouring.
Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and put it to one side. In the same pan cook the shallots for a couple of minutes, making sure that you do not colour them, and then add the well-drained spinach, oyster juices and cream.
Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 2 minutes with a lid on, giving the occasional stir.
Coarsely blend in a liquidiser then transfer to a clean pan. Bring back to the boil and drop the oysters into the sauce for 1 minute.
Remove them with a slotted spoon, draining any sauce back into the pan, and put the oysters back into the shell and keep them warm in a low oven.
Add the parmesan and bacon to the sauce and bring back to the boil. The sauce should be of a coating consistency, if not, then simmer it for a little longer until it has thickened.
To serve, spoon the sauce over the oysters in their shells.
Oysters with chorizo
This is a bit of a take on the French way of serving oysters with hot spicy sausage. These little Spanish cooking chorizos are perfect for spicing up your oysters a bit and they can be bought from Spanish delis and some supermarkets. You can serve the chorizos whole or cut them into little pieces once cooked and scatter them over the oysters.
6 oysters, shucked
6 mini cooking chorizo
Cook the chorizos in a frying pan or under the grill for 4-5 minutes, turning them as they are cooking. You will not need any fat in the pan, as they release a fair bit during cooking.
Oyster and cucumber ceviche
6 oysters, shucked
1 shallot, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1 small green chilli, finely chopped
The juice and grated zest of half a lime
3-4cm cucumber, halved and seeds scooped out
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the shallot, chilli and lime juice in a bowl and mix well. Cut the cucumber into very fine dice, stir into the shallot mixture and season to taste.
Leave to stand for 3-4 minutes, then serve spooned over the oysters.
Oyster po' boy
A sandwich on Valentine's Day? Well, why not – it's not all about romantic dinners; you may just want to stay in, watch a movie and eat something simple. A po' boy with oysters is a traditional New Orleans dish which originated during the Depression when oysters cost as little as 5 cents a dozen and used to be fried and put into sandwiches.
These days in New Orleans, you get po' boys with all sorts of strange fillings, but I like the original version. I've eaten oyster po' boys in many ways – breadcrumbed with different flavourings and even bacon. You can spice up the mayonnaise if you like by adding chopped gherkins and capers – as in a tartare sauce – or even add some chilli sauce to give it a real kick. In New Orleans, a po' boy tends to be about a foot long and made with French bread or softer rolls, rather like the hot-dog variety. If you want to make a long one, you could always share it with your partner.
12 oysters, shucked
A couple of tablespoons of cornflour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of knobs of butter for frying
A piece of French bread (length up to you)
A few leaves of crisp lettuce, shredded
Mayonnaise to serve (or see above)
Cut the bread in half lengthways and scoop out a little of the soft white bread. Brush the two pieces with butter and lightly toast the white side. Season the oysters and pass them through the cornflour. Melt the butter in a frying pan until foaming and fry the oysters for about a minute or so each side until nicely coloured. Spread a layer of mayonnaise on the bottom half of the bread, then add some lettuce. Lay the oysters on the lettuce, then add more mayonnaise if you wish, before placing the top on.