How to Eat Oysters
March 18th, 2011 by Dan F
There are a plethora of ways to serve and eat oysters. That’s why you should try a few and see which one you like best.
How to Pick Out Oysters
Selecting oysters in the store is the first step on your way to eating them. Only fresh oysters should be eaten. They shouldn’t smell bad. Oysters should be closed when you buy them; any oyster whose shell is ajar should quickly close its shell if you tap it. If you don’t plan on eating the oysters right away, don’t store them in water. They should be chilled, but remember that they’re still alive, so don’t suffocate them or do anything else that might kill them.
How to Shuck an Oyster
To shuck oysters means to open them up. Oysters should be shucked no more than 2 hours before eating them. When shucking oysters, you should use a shucking knife, sometimes called an oyster knife. (A paring knife may work, but it increases the chance of cutting yourself.) It’s also helpful to have shucking gloves, but these can be substituted with a towel wrapped around the hand that’s holding the oyster. You can get these items in grocery stores and seafood markets. Brush all the oysters with a stiff bristle brush and run them under cool water. Hold an oyster in one hand, with the flatter shell facing up. Using the other hand, slip the shucking knife between the two shells of the oyster, close to one end. Be careful because the edges of the shells can be sharp. Slide the knife along the length of the shell. This is easier said than done. You’ll need to use force, but at the same time, avoid stabbing yourself. Then, twisting your wrist, pry the oyster open. Try not to let the oyster’s juices spill out. (Most oyster-lovers prefer the oyster’s natural juices to still be available to consume.) To separate the shells, cut through the muscle that’s connecting them. Run the knife underneath the oyster to loosen it from the half shell.
On the Half Shell
Have you heard of eating “oysters on the half shell?” That’s the name for eating them raw, out of half of their shell, and it’s the most popular way to eat oysters. After the oysters are shucked, they’re traditionally laid on a bed of shaved ice prior to eating. Of course you can simply eat them as you shuck them.
When eating raw oysters, there are many different sauces and seasonings that can be added:
- A squeeze of lemon
- Cocktail sauce
- Red wine vinegar
- Tabasco sauce
- Old Bay seasoning
If you put too many seasonings on at once, the flavors may just blend together and become hard to distinguish. Try them separately to see which you like best.
Some “purists” believe the only way to eat an oyster is plain, with no sauces or flavorings. These diners find that condiments interfere with the natural oyster flavor. You be the judge.
Eating a Raw Oyster
Once you’ve garnished your raw oyster, you’re ready to eat it. It can help to have a shellfish fork. A shellfish fork is like a regular fork but smaller. You can use it to loosen the oyster from its shell before slurping it. (Alternatively, you can just stab the oyster with the fork and eat it, if you don’t want to suck the oyster meat right out of the shell.)
To eat the oyster, find the flattest side edge of the oyster’s shell. Press it to your lips, and in one motion, tip the back of the shell up and slurp. Rather than swallowing the oyster whole, chew it gently to enjoy the flavor.
An oyster shooter, also called an oyster cocktail, is part appetizer, part drink. First, take a raw oyster, with its juices, and put it in a cocktail glass or shot glass. Squeeze juice from a wedge of lemon on top and add about a teaspoon of cocktail sauce and a little hot sauce. Pour some cold vodka on top (optional). Instead of cocktail sauce and hot sauce, you can substitute tomato juice, horseradish, and pepper.
Mignonette is a popular garnish for oysters. The exact ingredients vary, but the basic formula is vinegar, minced shallots, and black pepper. You can also add salt or sugar. For the vinegar, you might try sherry vinegar or Champagne vinegar. The mignonette can be poured over raw or cooked oysters.
Deep Fried Oysters
Oysters can be deep-fried, just as with other shellfish. First, drain them of liquid. Dip them in eggs and bread crumbs with spices to taste, and fry them in hot oil. In some restaurants these may appear on the menu as “oyster poppers.”
Oyster po’ boys are a version of the Louisiana sub, using oysters. If you like deep-fried oysters and you like sandwiches, you’ll want to give this a try. Take your deep-friend oysters and sandwich them in French bread. Include lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pickles (if you like them).
Oysters can be used to make a stew. Combine them with cream or milk and butter, green onions, and spices.
Oysters Rockefeller get their name because the sauce is supposed to be as “rich” as John D. Rockefeller. The oysters are covered with a sauce of butter, bread crumbs, and minced greens, and then broiled in the oven. The dish was first served in 1899 in New Orleans. The original recipe is a closely guarded secret, but you can find one version of the recipe here.