September marks the beginning of oyster season, which runs all winter long through April. During this time, oysters are at their peak of flavor and, although perfect when eaten raw, are also delicious when prepared a variety of other ways—like fried or baked—so grab some friends and get to shucking.
A brief guide to oysters
There is so much history and information about oysters that entire books have been written about them. The definitive guide is Rowan Jacobsens’, “A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in America,” which offers a terrific history and guide to serving and eating them. Otherwise, this brief guide will give you the information you need to know about serving and savoring.
Types of oysters
Depending on where you live in the United States, you will eat different kinds of oysters that all taste different. There are more than 200 oyster varieties and all get their flavor from their surrounding waters. The East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast, and British Columbia are best known for their fresh oysters that are best served raw. Bluepoints, Kumamotos, Hog Islands, Chesapeakes, Malpeques, and Tomahawks are probably some of the most well known and can be easily found on many restaurant menus. However, depending on where you live, your local oysters will most likely be the freshest and best tasting. With oysters, its always best to stay local. If you don’t know what your local oyster variety is, just ask your fishmonger for tips on the freshest oysters.
It is important to purchase oysters from a reputable store or market. Talk with the fishmonger and find out what merchant sold them, when they arrived, and which region they are from. Freshness means a lot with oysters, so you want to make sure they are only a day or two old, the maximum is three days.
They should still be alive when you buy them and you should refrigerate them as soon as possible, but definitely within an hour or two.
When choosing oysters, the size of the shell doesn’t really matter; just because the shell is big, doesn’t always mean the oyster inside will be fat. Most likely, if you get them from a reputable farmer or merchant, they will taste delicious. The size of the oyster is not an indicator of how tasty it will be, either. Therefore, there really isn’t a definitive way to pick oysters, just ask a lot of questions.
Storing and prepping oysters
When you get the oysters home, you should immediately refrigerate them; however, it must be done properly. Never store oysters in water or in a sealed container because they will die. You should arrange un-shucked oysters in a flat-surface pan, cover them with a damp towel, and set them on top of ice. Chill them at a constant temperature until you are ready to open them.
When you are ready to shuck them, make sure they are not dead. You can tell if they are dead if their shell is slightly open. If an oyster’s shell is open and you tap it, it should close; if it doesn’t, it is dead.
Shucking oysters can be intimidating, but once you get the hang of it, it is quite simple, albeit time consuming. If you have no idea how to shuck one, then you can purchase oysters on the half shell, but you need to eat them as soon as possible.
The best way to learn how to shuck oysters is to watch a video such as “Simply Ming Tips” on YouTube. Be careful when opening oysters because you can easily slip and cut yourself, also, you can easily spill the liquid inside, which is one of the best parts! Remember, practice makes perfect, so if you can’t get it the first time, keep trying.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy oysters is raw on the half shell with a dab of hot sauce. Raw oysters are, however, an acquired taste, so if you have guests who may not enjoy them as much as you, there are a variety of other ways to prepare them. Fried oysters are always a favorite as are oysters rockefeller. They may be grilled, baked, sautéed, or added to soups, stews, pastas, and even stuffing. The sky is the limit with oysters, just be sure not to cover up their delicate and delicious flavor too much.