Tucking into an oyster can be intimidating, particularly for a first-timer. To chew or not to chew? To garnish or not to garnish?
Here, we take the guesswork out of buying, eating and cooking oysters, so you can skip the research and get straight to enjoying this little ocean treasure chests.
Before you start, make sure that you’re working with fresh and alive oysters. If you’re unsure, check out our guide on how to tell if an oyster is bad.
How To Eat Oysters On The Half Shell
Purists like raw oysters as-is. They add nothing at all. Others like to spice them up a bit. When you serve raw oysters, you should have these condiments on hand:
- Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- Mignonette Sauce
- Chopped Shallots
- Cayenne Pepper
- Lemon Wedges
- Tabasco Sauce
- Lime Wedges
- Oyster Sauce
If you like to add a splash of extra taste to your oyster, try to keep it minimal. If you mask the taste completely, what’s the point of eating these little ocean treasures? A drop or two of lemon, lime, or your condiment of choice will suffice.
Try not to mix your condiments, keep it simple and let the briny flavor of the oyster shine through.
It is also traditional to serve buttered brown bread with raw oysters. Champagne or white wine are both excellent as accompaniment. Most gourmets recommend Sauvignon Blanc.
If you are a beer drinker, a good Pilsner or oyster stout are fine options.
Oysters should be slurped right out of the shell. If you’re eating them at a restaurant, they will often come with a tiny fork. Use this to move the flesh around to ensure it’s free from the shell and will slide right into your mouth. If you don’t have a fork, simply use your finger.
Are You Supposed To Chew Oysters?
Many people are under the impression that you must slurp your oyster from the shell and swallow it whole, without chewing. While this is surely an option, you are in fact cheating yourself and missing out on some of that exquisite taste.
Take the time to chew it just once or twice before swallowing to bring out some of those sweet, briny flavors.
How To Cook Oysters
If slurping a raw oyster just isn’t your cup of tea or you want to try something different, cooking an oyster creates a whole new taste sensation. The flavor will be less briny and the texture firmer.
There are a number of ways to cook oysters. Some methods involve cooking shucked oysters, while others are cooked in-shell of in the half shell.
SEE ALSO: How To Shuck An Oyster
Popular methods include:
- Pan Frying
Oysters also make a nice addition to fish soup and fish stew.
Opening the shells to prepare oysters for cooking is a bit easier than opening them to prepare them for eating raw.
Instead of breaking their spines with the point of a knife, you put them in the microwave for half a minute to a minute. Alternately, you can steam them for a few seconds to force their shells open.
Because oysters die as soon as they are shucked, make sure you shuck them right before you’re ready to cook. This ensures you’re getting full freshness and flavor.
SEE ALSO: Best Oyster Knives
Cooking oysters is quick work. Because the morsels of flesh within the shells are quite small, it takes very little time to cook them thoroughly.
Keep an eye on them during your chosen cooking process, and err on the side of caution by using lower heat. Overcooking will result in chewy, rubbery oysters.
There are certain herbs that pair exceptionally well with the briny taste of an oyster. Try thyme, parsley, paprika and fennel seed.
There are quite a few excellent oyster recipes available and an online search for “oyster recipes” will yield a generous and varied selection.
Best Time To Eat Oysters
You may have heard it said that oysters should only be eaten in months ending in the letter “R”. Actually, the best months for eating oysters are September through April.
The reason for this is that during the cool months from fall to early spring, oysters in their natural habitat are resting. In the spring and summer, they spawn and this causes their flesh to become soft, milky and unpleasant tasting.
These days, you’re fine to eat oysters all year round because they are mostly farmed. For this reason, you can usually obtain them fresh and in peak condition for eating at any time of the year.
Even so, the months between September and April remain the very best months. These are the months when nature tells oysters to put on little fat for the wintertime. This natural process gives them a more flavorful and robust taste.
Where Should You Buy Oysters?
Be sure that your source for oysters is reliable. Buying direct from the farmer is the best way because you can be certain of getting very fresh specimens. This is always important, especially if you plan to eat your oysters raw.
If you buy from a store or a fish market, make certain that the oysters you are considering buying are sitting on fresh ice.
They should not be sitting in water because fresh water will kill saltwater oysters.
It is also possible to buy oysters direct online. Just as with any other online purchase, check to be sure that the supplier you are buying from has good ratings with consumer protection agencies and good reviews from customers.
What To Look For When Purchasing Oysters
You want to be certain that the oysters you buy are alive.
They should smell fresh, and shells should be tightly closed. They should also feel heavy for their size.
If they feel light and hollow, it means that they’ve been out of the water for a long time and there is no juice or liquor inside the shells.
When purchasing in person, it’s a good idea to sample one of the oysters you are intending to buy to be certain it is fresh.
You should also ask the seller to show you the “bag tag”. This will tell you the date that the oysters were harvested.
Oysters have a surprising array of flavors, depending on where and how they are grown. Some may be sweet and creamy, while others have more of a buttery texture.
There are five types of oyster commonly found in the US, but the two main you’ll come across are the Atlantic oyster and the Pacific oyster.
Pacific oysters are smaller, sweeter and creamier, with a stronger taste. They are usually best when eaten raw, and are a good place for beginners to start. Atlantic oysters have a slightly watery texture and more of a briny, savory taste.