1. The Basics
Each oyster has its own unique taste and texture depending on where it’s grown, how it’s grown, and other climatic factors.
95% of the oysters we eat are farmed
Most are cultivated in a highly sustainable way.
The oysters we eat are not the kind that grow pretty pearls
Pearl oysters are a different species thats closer related to clams.
Raw oysters are good for you
They are low in calories and fat, while packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Especially zinc! 6 oysters = 220% daily value.
Five species of oysters are harvested in the US
Atlantic / East Coast native (Crassostrea virginica), Pacific / West Coast non-native (Crassostrea gigas), Kumamoto (Crassostrea sikamea), European Native / Flat (Ostrea edulis), and Olympia / West Coast native (Ostrea lurida). There are many others in the world.
East Coast versus West Coast
Different water & species result in different tastes. East Coast oysters tend to be more light-bodied, briny, crisp, buttery. West Coast oysters tend to be more medium-bodied, minerally, creamy, and sweet. But some may surprise you…
Focus on 4-6 varieties at a time
Ordering too many varieties gets a bit overwhelming on the palate.
Get two of each
Tasting two of the same oyster gives you a better sense of its flavor variations.
Try comparing apples to apples
It’s fun to order oysters from all over the map, but also interesting to order different oysters from one region and compare the nuances.
3. Quality Check
There is a WORLD of difference between a fresh oyster and a not-so-fresh oyster. Prioritize freshness over all else and you’ll have a great experience every time.
Know when your oysters are harvested
Ask the server or supplier; request to see bag tag if necessary.
Check for oyster liquor
Fresh oysters should appear well-hydrated with sea water, so toss dry oysters that stick to their shells.
Don’t let your oysters submerge in tap water
Freshwater will kill them. You want to eat your oysters alive!
Best to be served by a skilled shucker
Experienced oyster shuckers will take care to remove grit, toss bad oysters, and leave the meat fully intact. All vital for optimal oyster enjoyment.
Oyster tasting is similar to wine tasting. You’re trying to absorb and appreciate the nuances in flavor and texture imparted by climatic conditions. The culmination of these effects is what oyster aficionados call “meroir.”
The 6 S’s of Pro Oyster Tasting
#1 SEE: Feast with your eyes! Study the shell, shape, color.
#2 SMELL: It should smell sea-breezy and sweet, not fishy at all.
#3 SIP: Sip the oyster liquor to get a sense of the salinity.
#4 SLURP: Shimmy the oyster meat loose, tilt the flat edge of the shell to your lips and slurp! Don’t discard the oyster liquor (faux pas).
#5 SAVOR: Chew a few times to get the full body taste; notice the progression from nose (salty) to body (sweet/flavors) to finish (lingering aroma).
#6 SHELL: Flip the shell over and admire the collaboration between nature & farmer.
All oysters fluctuate in taste and texture throughout the year. See how your impressions compare with mine!
Light-bodied, crisp, dry white wines and chilled chardonnay-based champagnes. Chablis, sauvignon blanc, muscadet can be magnificent choices. The trick is to match the acidity of the wine to the brininess of the oyster.
Casual and cool pairings
Light lagers and pilsners, hoppy IPA’s with a kick, or dark and smooth stouts (Guinness!). There are also a couple oyster stouts out there made with real oysters… might be worth a shot.
Premium grade sake can take your oyster game to a whole new level, clean cucumber-based cocktails and martini’s are nice palate cleansers, and whiskey too…
Use the right tool
Get yourself an oyster knife. Shuck on a flat surface. Have a glove or kitchen towel to protect your hand.
Start at the hinge
Shimmy the knife blade, pointed down, into the hinge until it feels secured. Twist/torque the knife like turning a doorknob to pop open the shell. Don’t pry up and down.
Cut the adductor muscle
Slide the blade across the top inside shell to sever the adductor muscle. Remove top shell. Then slide your knife under the bottom adductor muscle to dislodge it entirely.
How to make it pretty
Shucking a clean oyster takes practice. One trick is to turn the oyster over in its shell so that the bottom belly is up. Remove all broken shell or grit with tip of your knife. Watch my shucking video.
Although I prefer my oysters “naked,” toppings can add a wonderful dimension to oysters if done in moderation.
For clean, briny East Coast oysters
Try a classic red wine vinegar & shallot mignonette, a drizzle of lemon, or a pinch of freshly grounded black pepper. But not all at once.
For creamy, vegetal or minerally West Coast oysters
Try ponzu with green onion, creme fraiche & American hackleback caviar (my favorite decadent treat), lime and grated ginger.
I’m serious about the moderation part
Don’t cover your oyster with too much as will overpower the natural taste. This tends to happen easily with cocktail sauce or horseradish. (What’s the point in doing that?)
Interested in becoming a full fledged oyster aficionado? Well you’ve come to the right place. here are some other resources to look into:
My list of favorite oyster books
Keep tasting notes in this handy 33 Oysters on the Half Shell tasting journal
Chart out your own oyster crawl with my New York Oyster Map
Sign up for my Oyster Mastery class on Skillshare!