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How to eat oysters

Diana De Cicco is a food editor and writer based in New York City. She has a master's degree from New York University in Food Studies. Her passions are eating, traveling, and eating while traveling.

Guide to eating oysters

It's been long recommended that you eat raw oysters only during months whose spelling include the letter -˜r.' The reason? The lack of refrigeration in the summer months could result in spoiled oysters, and, typically, oysters spawn in warm weather resulting in less delectable oysters. These days, oysters are sourced from all over and are even farmed, so eating them year round is no longer taboo - but you still need to keep them properly refrigerated and opt for oysters that aren't currently spawning. That means this summer is a perfect time to shuck some oysters and immediately delight in their cool, refreshing flavor.

Fresh Oysters

Types of oysters

There are literally dozens of varieties of oysters that can be eaten raw, but there are five main types that are commonly found in the United States.

Olympia: This relatively small oyster (about 2-inches long) is packed with full-bodied flavor and is ideal for appetizers because of its size. Olympia's are native to Pacific Northwest area, around the Puget Sound. Although these oysters are almost extinct, they are slowly making a come back.

Pacific: One of the most popular oysters around, it includes many different regional varieties such as Hog Islands, Hama Hamas, Fanny Bays, Tottens, and lots more. These oysters are much larger then Olympia's (the shells can grow up to one foot long but the oyster inside will be smaller!) and has a sweet and fresh taste. The taste and texture of these oysters will vary by region.

Belons: These oysters are native to Europe, especially Brittany, France. They have an AOC classification meaning that only oysters raised in that region can be called Belons. Although there is a variety of Belons grown in Maine, these are commonly called the Maine flat oyster. Belons are often salty and typically large in size.

Kumamoto: This oyster is native to Kumamoto Bay in Japan but is now harvested in the United States. Kumamotos are usually small in size and have a sweet and mild taste, making them a good oyster for raw oyster first-timers.

Easterns: These are probably one of the most common varieties of oysters. They can also be called Virginica Oysters and include regional varieties such as Blue Points, Malpeques, Chesapeake Bays, and others. They tend to be slightly salty with a fresh sweet flavor. They are slightly larger then Pacifics.

How to buy the best oysters

Buy fresh

The most important key to buying oysters, as with any seafood, is to buy it as fresh as possible from a trustworthy fishmonger. This is especially true when you plan to eat your catch raw. Not everyone is lucky enough to live near an area where you can get oysters that have just been caught, but oysters flown in from other regions can be equally as good as long you can get them fresh.

Opt for live oysters

One of the most important things about choosing oysters is so make sure they are alive. Only buy oysters that are closed fully or will easily shut if they are slightly opened. Oysters that are fully open when purchased are dead and could cause sickness.

Choose your oyster type

The variety of oyster you choose is up to you, but may be dictated by what your store has. Farmed versus wild oysters make almost no difference. Farmed could possibly have less sand in them, but both taste about the same and usually go for similar prices.

Consider oyster size

When it comes to oysters, size doesn't matter. Each oyster variety comes in a different size so larger oysters don't necessarily mean they will be more flavorful and smaller doesn't mean they have less flavor. If you like slurping your oysters, then smaller ones may be better because you can eat them in one bite.

How to prepare raw oysters

Keep oysters on ice

When you get your oysters home from the store, if not using right away, always store them on ice in the refrigerator, changing the ice when it melts. Try to use them as soon as possible, within a day or so.

Shucking

When ready to eat, shucking can be a challenge, but once you learn how to do it, it's a snap. If you are using the oysters right away, your local market will usually shuck them for you, but you should use those within an hour or two. All you need to shuck your own oysters is an oyster knife and a thick glove, just in case.

(Video: How to shuck oysters)

Serve oysters

Serve the oysters on a half shell on a bed of ice, being careful not to dump out the tasty liquor from the shells. There are two schools of thought on how to eat oysters: plain or with a sauce. Personally, I like them plain so I can taste the fresh and delicious oyster. A bit of lemon juice, mignonette (recipe below), cocktail sauce, horseradish, hot sauce, or even a dab of wasabi can all enhance the flavor of an oyster. No matter how you like them, just be sure to suck the whole thing out of its shell, juice and all for the most delicious experience!

Raw oyster recipes

Mignonette

Makes 1/2 cup

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black peppercorns
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
Salt to taste

Directions:
Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl and serve with raw oysters.

Champagne Mignonette

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons Champagne
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot
Pinch of coarsely ground black pepper
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Directions:
Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl and serve with raw oysters.

Oyster Shooter

Makes 1 serving

Ingredients:
1 raw oyster
1 teaspoon cocktail sauce
Splash vodka
1 lemon wedge

Directions:
Place oyster in a shot glass and top with cocktail sauce. Top with a splash of vodka and serve with lemon wedge to squeeze over top.

More on oysters and other shellfish


Fish and shellfish advice for pregnant women
Local harvest: Digging for clams
New facts about fish

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