Joseph Martin’s Oysters with Pasta

Lots of oysters, and a little cream. Fresh oysters, and fresh pasta is just as pleasant as it would seem, on paper. Add a little cream, to draw the flavours of the sea through every strand of the pasta.

The simplest of food is not always associated with restaurants, more’s the pity. But the first time I tried the food of Joseph Martin, a proud son of Scotland, in what used to be the famous Melbourne restaurant, Cafe Balzac, I thought this dish of oysters and fresh pasta and cream was an inspiration. Business was not so hot, so they changed the name to Harry’s Bar, gave the decor a kick along, became very Italian, and lo and behold, the place is burning.

The cream in the sauce means to me that this is a dish best made with fresh pasta. But that’s again up to you. Fresh pasta soaks up the cream just the way it should. And the gentle texture of the fresh pasta is far more appropriate to this dish than the al dente dried version. If you use dried pasta, use one that is rather unobtrusive, spaghetti or fettuccine, and add more oysters.

If you have a pile of fresh pasta with not a lot about that seems worthy of such a carrier, get out in the garden and start picking tarragon. Grab a pile of your best butter, mash it in your hands, and blend in some snipped tarragon leaves. Cook some pasta and when it’s cooked, toss it in a warm pan with the tarragon butter mix, working the melting butter and tarragon through the hot pasta. Stick your head over the lot: the warmth from the pasta and the pan will release that brilliant, rich, aniseed aroma. The flavour of the dish will astonish.

6 oysters per person

1 leek, chopped roughly – Joseph Martin uses a few shallots, but leeks are easier to get hold of.

a little butter

25 mL cream

fresh pasta for four


Buy the oysters unopened, and open them yourself, taking care not to lose any juices. Strain the juice through a fine strainer (at home, these are called Chux, at a restaurant, they are called drum sieves). Leave the oysters in their shells until you’re ready to throw them through the pasta.


Cook the leek gently in the butter, until softened, stirring so that the leek does not brown.


Add the retained juice of the oysters and the cream, and reduce slightly.


Cook the pasta, and strain. Toss through the sauce, mixing well.


Shuck oysters at the very end, tossing them gently just to warm them through. (Note the oysters are not cooked as such, but merely heated through, like peas. The heating process should plump them up, like proud parents at a presentation night.)


  • You can add chives, thyme, or a little squeeze of lime juice, or some finely chopped dried tomato, or finely chopped, cooked bacon to this dish to present a few surprises.
  • There are plenty of options here, leading to all sorts of marginally different dishes: lots of fresh pasta and a few oysters, lots of oysters and not much pasta. And do it with prawns, or scampi, or mussels, or clams. No difference in the cooking process.
  • You can ‘beef’ the cream with the addition of fish stock should you wish, particularly with mussels and prawns. With- oysters, I’d prefer to rely on that subtle taste of the sea that comes from the juice of the oyster.

WINE: Oysters and white wine leave a funny reaction in my mouth, like swallowing an iodine-based medicine. I love Adelaide’s Cooper’s Ale with oysters, or a good fino sherry.