LESSON 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.
Edible oysters are not the kind that typically grow pretty pearls
Pearl oysters are a different species thats closer related to clams. But you might get lucky…
Raw oysters are very good for you
They are low in calories and fat, while packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Especially zinc! 6 medium oysters = 220% daily value.
Five species of oysters are harvested in the US
Atlantic / East Coast native (Crassostrea virginica), Olympia / West Coast native (Ostrea lurida), Pacific / West Coast non-native (Crassostrea gigas), Kumamoto (Crassostrea sikamea), and European Native / Flat (Ostrea edulis). There are many others in the world.
LESSON 2: ORDERING
Different water and species result in different tastes. Growing method and age also influence the oyster’s texture.
East Coast versus West Coast
There are briny and mild, petite and XXL East and West Coast oysters. It depend on the farm’s proximity to the ocean and your proximity to the farm.
Generally speaking, Pacific oysters will have a pronounced cucumber or vegetal undertone. Atlantics are more prone to take on earthy, mushroomy, and molluscy notes.
Texturally, East Coast oysters tend to be solid bites—silky to meatier, whereas West Coast will be slightly creamier, custardy.
Focus on four to six 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.
LESSON 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 the oysters were harvested
Ask the server or supplier; request to the shellfish 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. See Standards.
LESSON 4: TASTING
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 “merroir.”
My 6 S’s of Pro Oyster Tasting
SEE: Feast with your eyes! Study the shell, shape, color.
SMELL: It should smell sea-breezy and sweet, not fishy at all.
SIP: Sip the oyster liquor to get a sense of the salinity.
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).
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).
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!
LESSON 5: PAIRINGS
Light-bodied, crisp, dry white wines and chilled chardonnay-based champagnes. Muscadet, Chablis, and Sancerre can be magnificent choices. The trick is to match the acidity of the wine to the brininess of the oyster.
Casual and cool pairings
Crisp lagers and pilsners, hoppy IPA’s with a kick, or a light, smooth stouts (Guinness!). There are also a couple oyster stouts out there made with real oysters… might be worth a shot.
Junmai Ginjo, a style of premium sake, can take your oyster game to a whole new level. Martini’s can be nice palate cleansers or investigate vodka-based cocktails. Perhaps whiskey or mezcal…
How to evaluate a pairing
Sip a little of your beverage of choice, then eat the oyster. Make sure you chew the meat! Take another sip. Let them flavors meld and decide whether the two are synergistic, neutral, or combative.
LESSON 6: SHUCKING
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.
Or try the side shuck
If the hinge is obscured or busted, push the tip of the blade into the right edge where the adductor muscle is attached.
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.
Do your best 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 video on How to Shuck.
LESSON 7: ACCOUTREMENTS
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.
Belons or Olympias
A squeeze of lemon for a large Belon is all you need. Don’t you dare put anything on the Olympia.
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:
Dig into my list of favorite oyster books
Track your tasting notes with this snazzy 33 Oysters on the Half Shell tasting journal
Chart out your own oyster crawl with the New York Oyster Map
Sign up for my Oyster Mastery class on Skillshare!