Oysters can be daunting to eat and prepare, but at their freshest, their sweet-saline taste is worth the effort. Scott Garrett, executive chef at Blue Plate Oysterette in Santa Monica, CA, gives us the lowdown on selection, storing, shucking, and — the best part — eating. Watch this tutorial and never be daunted by oysters again.
If you think oyster, mussel, clam, and scallop cookery seem best left to the experts, then think again. In reality, much of the onus of prep work comes down to choosing exceptionally fresh shellfish — after that, the effort to reward ratio is high. With that in mind, we've rounded up crucial guidelines for shopping for shellfish, starting with one of our favorite categories of mollusks, the humble bivalve.
Generally speaking, bivalves should be purchased alive, since these creatures decompose exceptionally quickly once dead, even when properly stored on ice and refrigerated. Most of the qualities listed below indicate whether or not the animal inside the shell is still living.
Things to Bear in Mind When Buying Clams, Oysters, or Mussels
- In their raw state, these bivalves should feel heavy for their size.
- Like all seafood, these should smell of the ocean — briny and sweet, like seaweed — and not off-putting or "fishy" in any way.
- If shellfish are prepackaged in mesh bags, ask to open up the bag to get a better look, as it's tougher to tell the condition of the shells when bagged.
- Shells should be tightly closed, with no chips or cracks present. An open shell indicates that the creature is already dead (and will have begun to decompose). Once ready to prep or eat raw, sharply tap any that are slightly ajar; if alive, shells should close — and if any don't, make sure to discard. Likewise, once cooked, the shells should open up slightly — this indicates that the shellfish was alive when cooked — any that stay closed should be discarded.
While dining out at your local seafood joint or your neighborhood bistro, you've undoubtedly encountered them by the dozen (or half). Oysters on the half shell are ubiquitous these days, but they're not just a restaurant treat. Many seafood markets sell them for home consumption, and the right tools and plenty of ice will see you shucking and slurping in no time.
A quick squeeze of lemon juice or a drizzle of hot sauce is perhaps the simplest accompaniment, but a classic mignonette — a vinegar and shallot-based condiment — nicely balances that from-the-sea brininess and can be thrown together in no time. Just place all ingredients in a jar, shake, shake, shake, and your elegant oyster appetizer is ready!
Nothing tastes quite as good as fresh oysters with a little mignonette and by the looks of it, nikkisoda agrees.
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Although you can essentially enjoy the briny bivalve all year round, it's widely known that oysters are best eaten in months that have a letter "R." Oysters are delicious on the half shell, but my favorite way to prepare them is casino-style. Bacon and butter make everything taste better! The best thing about this recipe is that it can be prepared in advance. The herb butter will keep for a couple of days in the fridge, and the bacon can be crisped the night before you plan to serve the oysters. Bake them just before eating. Offer the oysters with sparkling wine and you've got the perfect appetizer. Here's the uncomplicated recipe.
I'll never turn down a raw oyster, but when it comes to wooing someone with a cozy, baked version of the supposed aphrodisiac, this creole recipe is absolutely seductive. These oysters often get me invited back to parties (as long as I bring the oysters) and succeed in winning over oyster haters.
Shuck your own oysters and serve them on the half shell, or buy a couple pints preshucked and bake them in ramekins or a casserole dish. Once the shucking is out of the way, this dish is incredibly easy, somewhat sultry, and just a little bit rich. Try it as a side dish or even as a main course. Here's how to bake up some oysters.
It's well-known lore that oysters can really titillate the palate (among other things), so I consulted Parke Ulrich, executive chef at Waterbar Restaurant in San Francisco, for tips on crafting the perfect oyster plate at home. Constructing a carefully curated selection of oysters is a bit of an art, much like creating a cheese plate. According to Chef Ulrich, oysters "have a great sense of place. They may be the same species but taste different depending on where they are actually grown." Since selecting an assortment of oysters can be intimidating (after all, various oysters get their flavors from tidal changes, minerality, water temperature, and other factors!), I asked Ulrich for a few pointers.
- Map out your choices. Oyster characteristics — liquidy, chewy, briny, earthy — often depend upon the oyster's origin. For example, "Tomales Bays [oysters native to the San Francisco Bay Area] are briny and sweet because they are influenced by the cold water and fresh water in this area," Ulrich points out. To represent this pearl of the sea's vast variety of flavors, choose a geographically diverse assortment. Not only will you create a satisfying plate, but you'll have fun guessing each oyster's home!
- Span the flavor spectrum. Briny oysters tend to be "cleaner tasting and have less of an aftertaste," Ulrich explains. The more earthy and complex the oyster, the more it lingers on your palate, an attribute that's better for the more advanced oyster eater. At your local market, keep an eye out for Ulrich's faves — Preston Points (from Tomales Bay in Northern California), Nootka Sounds (from British Columbia), and Wellfleet (from Cape Cod) — and opt for more obscure varieties that you're not apt to find at other restaurants.
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If you're not a fan of raw oysters, I highly suggest you try them cooked. It's a great way to introduce your palate to the briny shellfish, and after all, what's not to love about anything that's covered in a delicious mixture of melted butter, cheese, herbs, and garlic?
Although this recipe hails from Mobile, AL, I'm suggesting you make it for Mardi Gras. Buy gulf oysters and you'll be supporting the community of Louisiana! These addictive oysters are a crowd-pleaser and a scrumptious start to any celebratory shindig, so check out the uncomplicated recipe now.
Not only did he reveal his favorite aphrodisiacs, but handsome chef David Bazirgan, of the Fifth Floor Restaurant, also shared his recipe for oyster chowder! With its creamy, velvety broth and chunks of plump oysters and soft potatoes, this chowder is to die for. At Fifth Floor, the chef serves it in a shot glass as part of an appetizer that features oysters five ways. When offering it at home as a seductive starter or entrée, I recommend reducing the amount of half and half. His recipe calls for a soup base that's entirely half and half, but that's a bit rich, so I cut it with chicken broth. The resulting chowder is briny, bacony, and brilliantly delicious. For easy-shucking, soak the oysters in water. Ready for the recipe? Read on.