Oyster are found in shallow water - usually less than 10 metres deep - on fine, muddy sand. They have a strong salty taste of the sea and are enjoyed swallowed raw from the shell with just a sprinkling of lemon juice. They can also be cooked by grilling them in their half shells with a little butter.
While in the wild the European native oyster has been recognised as an endangered species and is protected by law, there are now some farms experimenting with breeding natives commercially. Currently, Pacific oysters are the most popular commercially as the cold water inhibits breeding, which means Scottish cultivated Pacific oysters can be consumed all year round.
Around eight inches across, King or Great scallops are larger than the three-inch Queen scallops. Both have a creamy, white muscle and a bright orange roe - called coral. Farmed scallops are available all year, but wild ones are out of season in November when they spawn. Scallops can be bought live, in the shell or shelled.
Scallops should be consumed as soon as possible after buying and their shells are opened with a sharp knife or by heating them in the oven. Steam, shallow-fry in butter or grill with bacon but don't cook them for long. Small ones need only a few seconds and larger ones should only take a minute or so.
The most common mussel found in Scotland is the Blue mussel, although there is also the Horse mussel, more commonly referred to as Clabbie Dubhs from the Gaelic Clab-Dubh meaning large, black mouth.
Wild mussels are a familiar sight around Scotland’s coastline as the blue-black shelled molluscs cling to rocks and jetties while farmed mussels are grown on ropes for 2 - 3 years and are a sustainable and environmentally responsible food source. Their sweet and salty orange-coloured flesh is best cook by steaming in a pan with a lid for a couple of minutes until they gape open, discarding any that remain shut.
Whelks, also known as ‘buckies’ or the common periwinkle, are saltwater molluscs with a spiral coiled shell, which is typically a grey or brown colour. They are a familiar sight around the Scottish coast and only need minimal cooking of about 10 - 15 minutes in boiling salted water, otherwise the flesh will be rubbery.
Spoots, otherwise known as razor clams are long, thin shellfish that look like an old cut-throat razor. They can be found in sandy beds below the tideline. Catching this popular delicacy is a highly skilled art and involves walking backwards across the sand - with a knife and bucket the size of your optimism at the ready - during low tide when the spoot beds are uncovered.