5 Ways to Savor Oysters Like a Pro

Sloppily-shucked oysters, torn meat, grit mixed in, oysters completely swamped with condiments— be honest— as an oyster lover, have you committed any of these oyster offenses?

In today's world where so many of excellent varieties of oysters are available, why are we settling for less when it comes to how they're served? To savor oysters like a real "ostreaphile," try a few of these tips the next time you order up a dozen at your favorite raw bar.

 

 A variety of US oysters at a modern raw bar offers up plenty of flavor options to explore. Image by Kate Livie.

A variety of US oysters at a modern raw bar offers up plenty of flavor options to explore. Image by Kate Livie.

1.     When more than one kind of raw oyster is available, order up a mixed dozen.

An oyster’s flavor can vary greatly depending on the environment where it was grown. Even oysters of the same species can have a remarkable range of flavors, and the best way to explore the incredible array of oysters is to compare and contrast. When you can, order a mixed dozen from two or more places (good raw bars will always tell you where their oysters are sourced), then sit back and enjoy- you’ll be amazed at the differences between the oysters.

 

 An array of 'naked' oysters at Eventide in Portland, Maine. Image by Kate Livie.

An array of 'naked' oysters at Eventide in Portland, Maine. Image by Kate Livie.

2.     Naked oysters first, condiments second.

Raw oysters have very delicate and complex flavors that are easily masked by condiments. Before you drown your oyster in hot sauce or mignonette, taste one plain. Enjoy the unique combination of brine, minerals, and notes of cream or cucumber that oysters can convey. After that, feel free to go crazy with whatever sauces or flavorings you like.

 

 Freshly-shucked oysters at the 2013 Oyster Riot.

Freshly-shucked oysters at the 2013 Oyster Riot.

3.     Never order oysters at a restaurant when you can’t see them being shucked.

Some restaurants still pre-shuck their oysters and let them sit. Not only does this dry out the oysters, but it can lead to food poisoning. Only order at a raw bar where the oysters are clearly cold, and if you want to know the particulars about their freshness, ask for the oyster’s tag. All restaurants are required to keep these on hand.

 

 Salty Chincoteagues pair well with a hoppy beer. Image by Kate Livie.

Salty Chincoteagues pair well with a hoppy beer. Image by Kate Livie.

4.     To double your pleasure, pair your oysters with a complimenting wine or beer.

The right beer or wine can perfectly accent the flavors in your oysters- whether a dry white wine like a Sancerre or a hop-forward beer with very salty oysters, or a stout or Gewurtztraminer with a sweeter, buttery oyster from a lower salinity region. Try different combinations until you hit your favorite oyster and drink pairing.

 

 Oyster spat attached to recycled bits of shell. Image by Kate Livie.

Oyster spat attached to recycled bits of shell. Image by Kate Livie.

5.     Oyster shells are not trash.

Oyster shells are an incredibly valuable resource for oyster reef restoration. Baby oysters, or ‘spat,’ need old shells to attach to in order to grow. Oyster shells have been depleted in many states, and the recycling of spent shell is a way to help aid oyster restoration efforts. So, don’t throw oyster shells away— and definitely don’t use them in your driveway or front path. Recycle them! Oyster shell recycling organizations are found throughout the Chesapeake Bay, and many restaurants have partnered with these organizations to make sure their shell is recycled. Always ask whether the restaurant recycles shell when eating oysters at a raw bar, and when at home, drop off your oyster shells at a recycling location. Save the Bay, one oyster at a time.