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Oysters 101: Your Ultimate Guide on How to Select, Store, Clean and Shuck Oysters

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Preparing Oysters at Home Is Easier Than You Think

Whether eating them raw on the half-shell served with a side of mignonette sauce, grilling them, frying them and stuffing them in a New Orleans Po Boy, baking them in Oysters Rockefeller (a classic recipe originating in New Orleans), or smoking them - oysters are a favourite in The Chef & The Dish Test Kitchen.

The majority of oysters in North America are enjoyed at a restaurant, but at The Chef & The Dish, we believe in constantly learning new dishes and home cooked meals. Cooking together is a fantastic date-night and adding oysters to your cooking repertoire will add a whole new level of satisfaction.


Here are tips and tricks on oyster varieties, how to select the freshest oysters, how to store oysters, how to clean them, and finally, how to shuck oysters.

There are hundreds of varieties of oysters. While many North Americans now eat a range of oysters cultivated in North America - many oyster varieties aren't native to us. Several oyster types are only native to the Asian Pacific, specifically Japan and Australia. With modern technology, oysters are cultivated in farms that produce beautiful shellfish here in our backyard - but if you're an oyster lover and find yourself in Japan, seek out a local guide who can take you on an oyster experience during your visit.


There are a number of varieties of oysters from the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf

ATLANTIC, PACIFIC, AND FLAT OYSTERS - OH MY.

A GUIDE ON OYSTER SPECIES AND POPULAR VARIETIES

Trying different varieties of oysters is half the fun and eventually you’ll find your favourites. But what's the difference between Blue Point and Fanny Bay? There are five main species of oysters, but hundreds of names. The species defines its overall characteristics and size. The names of oysters generally come from the waters in which they're raised, or the cultivator's savvy marketing name. Some are large, others are small, some are salty and others more mild in flavour, some can be described with melon or cucumber notes.

Keep this note handy when selecting oysters - in general, East Coast oysters send to be saltier (aka brinier) milder, and a bit smaller. Oysters found on the west coast of North America tend to be a bit sweeter and creamier.

ATLANTIC OYSTERS

These oysters are found on the East Coast or Gulf of Mexico. The ridges of the shell are generally a bit smoother than other species. Popular varieties include Malpeque, Blue Point, Wellfleets, Raspberry Point, and Cape Blue.

Malpeque: Malpeque Oysters are one of the most popular oysters in North America. They’re cultivated in Prince Edward Island, Canada - an important location for oysters. They are affordable, easy to eat, and have a nice balance of saltiness.

Blue Point: Blue Point oysters are arguably the most popular in North America. They’re cultivated on the eastern coast, primarily off the coast of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. They’re popular for a reason - they’re salty and robust.

Apalachicola: It's important to make note of this variety. These Gulf oysters are found in the wild off the Florida pan-handle in the area of Apalachicola. They are fat, plump, rich, sweet, known as one of the best oysters in the world, and unfortunately now in scarcity. They are difficult to find outside of the hyper-local area. In September 2012, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services notified the Governor of a ‘situation quickly becoming a crisis’. He outlined the reason for the alarming decrease in oyster resources including drought conditions and an off balance of fresh and salt water conditions.

PACIFIC OR JAPANESE OYSTERS

These oysters are native to Japan, but now due to their adaptability can be found all over the world. They usually have pointed shells. Popular varieties include Fanny Bay, Penn Cove, Kusshi, and Golden Mantle.

Fanny Bay: These fantastic oysters are cultivated in British Columbia and are known to be smooth with a fresh finish.

Penn Cove: Penn Cove oysters are cultivated in the Northwest in the Northern Puget Sound and have won the Most Beautiful Oyster Awards several times running. They are very popular and have a distinct crispness and freshness to them.

KUMAMOTO OYSTERS

Another oyster originating from the coasts of Japan, but is now also cultivated off California and Washington. They are small, super sweet, and creamy. They used to be considered part of the Pacific or Japanese Oysters, but are actually their own species. They are often just called by their species name 'Kumamoto' because it's highly valued.

EUROPEAN FLAT OYSTERS

Originally found across Europe, but now cultivated in farms in Maine, Washington state and elsewhere. They are known for their flat appearance. They tend to have a metallic flavour and can be a turn off to novice oyster eaters.

Belon: These bold oysters are not for the faint of heart. They can be described as almost crunchy and intense with a finish that is gamey. They are found off the coast of France in the Brittany region.

OLYMPIA OYSTERS

Mostly found on the Pacific Northwest, these are smaller oysters and have a sweet and metallic flavour. These oysters are now considered very rare due to environmental changes in their native area.

How to pick fresh oysters, always ask yourself these questions

HOW TO PICK FRESH OYSTERS

EATING OYSTERS IN MONTHS THAT HAVE AN R, TRUTH OR MYTH?

Many have heard the old saying 'only eat oysters in months that have the letter R', so this means September through April. According to this philosophy, you shouldn’t eat oysters between May and August. But, National Oyster day is August 5. So, what’s the deal? While of course there's truth to the natural cycle of oysters spawning, with the modern day way of farming oysters, it’s safe to eat them year-round. There's more accountability for how oysters are farmed including monitoring the waters in which the oysters are raised for temperatures and bacteria balance. So, farmed oysters fine to eat any time of year. If you're eating wild oysters, follow the R rule. Ultimately - do what feels freshest in your local market.

Whether you're in an R month or not, there are important questions to ask yourself during the buying process.

How does it look?

With fish, you look in the eyes. With oysters, you look to make sure the shells are tightly shut. If the shell isn’t closed - gently tap it and see if it closes. If not, the oyster isn’t fresh - discard and move on to the next one.

How does the oyster smell?

Does it smell like the sea? Excellent. Pick that one. If it has an overly fishy smell, move on, it’s not the freshest.

How does it feel in your hand?

Oysters should feel a bit heavy. Why? Because a freshly harvested oyster will have seawater in it. That seawater is precious! It also is a primary flavour characteristic of each type of oyster. So, this water means it’s fresh and will taste fantastic.

Learn how to make the ultimate Oysters Rockefeller in a Special Skype Cooking Class with Chef Gason in New Orleans

HOW TO STORE OYSTERS

As with all of our cooking classes that include seafood as part of the shopping list, we recommend buying oysters the same day you plan to eat them. This way, you’ll get the freshest available. If you want to buy them a couple days early, it’s not a problem. To store your oysters, keep them cold in the refrigerator in an open container with an icy cold towel on-top.

Very important - always keep your oysters placed with the rounded side down. This makes sure that precious seawater stays in the oyster.

Buying and Storing Oysters is easy with a few tips


HOW TO CLEAN OYSTERS

Before you’re ready to eat, let your oysters sit in a small bowl of icy water for 10 or so minutes. You’ll notice sand and other debris will fall to the bottom of the water. Remove the oysters and discard the water.

With a hard bristled brush, scrub the outside of the oyster. By doing this you’ll remove any remaining dirt, sand and debris.

How to Shuck Oysters

HOW TO SHUCK OYSTERS

Oysters can look intimating. But don’t fret! With a few simple tools you’ll be shucking oysters in no time. Remember, your goal is to keep as much water in the oyster as possible and not get any chips from the shell into the opened oyster.

Step 1: Get thick gloves and an oyster knife or other sharp (but won’t stab you!) knife. It’s easy for the knife to slip out of your hand, so the gloves are important. Williams Sonoma has a beautiful Oyster Knife with a blunt blade and guard that will make this process nice and safe.

Step 2: Hold the oyster in your palm with the rounded side down.

Step 3: The oyster is being held together by a hinge. Find the hinge, then insert your knife into it, or directly next to it. Twist your knife, and lift it slightly upwards to open the oyster hinge. Most of the time, it’s a lot easier than you think. The most oysters shucked in an hour,

according to the Guinness Book of World Records, was

How to Open the Oyster

done by a team of 10 Canadians, who shucked 8,840 oysters together. So, it can’t be that difficult!

Step 4: Next, take the knife and carefully glide it in-between the shells to release the oyster from the top of the shell. You’ll want to make sure the oyster, if you’re serving it raw, is separated from the shell on both sides to make for easy eating.

You did it! Now lift the top shell, and inside you have a beautiful oyster.

Take your oyster skills to the next level. Book a stay at home date night experience. The Chef & The Dish cooking classes let you video call highly accomplished chefs around the into your kitchen. To book an oyster cooking class, send us an email to design a special cooking class with a menu featuring oysters. Chef Gason will teach you how to make the famous Oysters Rockefeller, and other quintessential oyster dishes. During your class, you will be taught how to prepare oysters at home, and together you'll cook dishes that will become new favourites.


Cooking Class Gift Certificates, Take date night to a new level with a cooking class in your own home. Video call a chef based in Italy, Thailand, Spain, New Orleans, Mexico and more destinations for a private 1:1 cooking class. Rated "Best Of" in Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Vanity Fair, Oprah Magazine, Delish, and tens more. Check out our Cooking Class Gift Certificates >

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Oysters 101: Your Ultimate Guide on How to Select, Store, Clean and Shuck Oysters

Updated: Apr 18, 2022


Preparing Oysters at Home Is Easier Than You Think

Whether eating them raw on the half-shell served with a side of mignonette sauce, grilling them, frying them and stuffing them in a New Orleans Po Boy, baking them in Oysters Rockefeller (a classic recipe originating in New Orleans), or smoking them - oysters are a favourite in The Chef & The Dish Test Kitchen.

The majority of oysters in North America are enjoyed at a restaurant, but at The Chef & The Dish, we believe in constantly learning new dishes and home cooked meals. Cooking together is a fantastic date-night and adding oysters to your cooking repertoire will add a whole new level of satisfaction.


Here are tips and tricks on oyster varieties, how to select the freshest oysters, how to store oysters, how to clean them, and finally, how to shuck oysters.

There are hundreds of varieties of oysters. While many North Americans now eat a range of oysters cultivated in North America - many oyster varieties aren't native to us. Several oyster types are only native to the Asian Pacific, specifically Japan and Australia. With modern technology, oysters are cultivated in farms that produce beautiful shellfish here in our backyard - but if you're an oyster lover and find yourself in Japan, seek out a local guide who can take you on an oyster experience during your visit.


There are a number of varieties of oysters from the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf

ATLANTIC, PACIFIC, AND FLAT OYSTERS - OH MY.

A GUIDE ON OYSTER SPECIES AND POPULAR VARIETIES

Trying different varieties of oysters is half the fun and eventually you’ll find your favourites. But what's the difference between Blue Point and Fanny Bay? There are five main species of oysters, but hundreds of names. The species defines its overall characteristics and size. The names of oysters generally come from the waters in which they're raised, or the cultivator's savvy marketing name. Some are large, others are small, some are salty and others more mild in flavour, some can be described with melon or cucumber notes.

Keep this note handy when selecting oysters - in general, East Coast oysters send to be saltier (aka brinier) milder, and a bit smaller. Oysters found on the west coast of North America tend to be a bit sweeter and creamier.

ATLANTIC OYSTERS

These oysters are found on the East Coast or Gulf of Mexico. The ridges of the shell are generally a bit smoother than other species. Popular varieties include Malpeque, Blue Point, Wellfleets, Raspberry Point, and Cape Blue.

Malpeque: Malpeque Oysters are one of the most popular oysters in North America. They’re cultivated in Prince Edward Island, Canada - an important location for oysters. They are affordable, easy to eat, and have a nice balance of saltiness.

Blue Point: Blue Point oysters are arguably the most popular in North America. They’re cultivated on the eastern coast, primarily off the coast of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. They’re popular for a reason - they’re salty and robust.

Apalachicola: It's important to make note of this variety. These Gulf oysters are found in the wild off the Florida pan-handle in the area of Apalachicola. They are fat, plump, rich, sweet, known as one of the best oysters in the world, and unfortunately now in scarcity. They are difficult to find outside of the hyper-local area. In September 2012, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services notified the Governor of a ‘situation quickly becoming a crisis’. He outlined the reason for the alarming decrease in oyster resources including drought conditions and an off balance of fresh and salt water conditions.

PACIFIC OR JAPANESE OYSTERS

These oysters are native to Japan, but now due to their adaptability can be found all over the world. They usually have pointed shells. Popular varieties include Fanny Bay, Penn Cove, Kusshi, and Golden Mantle.

Fanny Bay: These fantastic oysters are cultivated in British Columbia and are known to be smooth with a fresh finish.

Penn Cove: Penn Cove oysters are cultivated in the Northwest in the Northern Puget Sound and have won the Most Beautiful Oyster Awards several times running. They are very popular and have a distinct crispness and freshness to them.

KUMAMOTO OYSTERS

Another oyster originating from the coasts of Japan, but is now also cultivated off California and Washington. They are small, super sweet, and creamy. They used to be considered part of the Pacific or Japanese Oysters, but are actually their own species. They are often just called by their species name 'Kumamoto' because it's highly valued.

EUROPEAN FLAT OYSTERS

Originally found across Europe, but now cultivated in farms in Maine, Washington state and elsewhere. They are known for their flat appearance. They tend to have a metallic flavour and can be a turn off to novice oyster eaters.

Belon: These bold oysters are not for the faint of heart. They can be described as almost crunchy and intense with a finish that is gamey. They are found off the coast of France in the Brittany region.

OLYMPIA OYSTERS

Mostly found on the Pacific Northwest, these are smaller oysters and have a sweet and metallic flavour. These oysters are now considered very rare due to environmental changes in their native area.

How to pick fresh oysters, always ask yourself these questions

HOW TO PICK FRESH OYSTERS

EATING OYSTERS IN MONTHS THAT HAVE AN R, TRUTH OR MYTH?

Many have heard the old saying 'only eat oysters in months that have the letter R', so this means September through April. According to this philosophy, you shouldn’t eat oysters between May and August. But, National Oyster day is August 5. So, what’s the deal? While of course there's truth to the natural cycle of oysters spawning, with the modern day way of farming oysters, it’s safe to eat them year-round. There's more accountability for how oysters are farmed including monitoring the waters in which the oysters are raised for temperatures and bacteria balance. So, farmed oysters fine to eat any time of year. If you're eating wild oysters, follow the R rule. Ultimately - do what feels freshest in your local market.

Whether you're in an R month or not, there are important questions to ask yourself during the buying process.

How does it look?

With fish, you look in the eyes. With oysters, you look to make sure the shells are tightly shut. If the shell isn’t closed - gently tap it and see if it closes. If not, the oyster isn’t fresh - discard and move on to the next one.

How does the oyster smell?

Does it smell like the sea? Excellent. Pick that one. If it has an overly fishy smell, move on, it’s not the freshest.

How does it feel in your hand?

Oysters should feel a bit heavy. Why? Because a freshly harvested oyster will have seawater in it. That seawater is precious! It also is a primary flavour characteristic of each type of oyster. So, this water means it’s fresh and will taste fantastic.

Learn how to make the ultimate Oysters Rockefeller in a Special Skype Cooking Class with Chef Gason in New Orleans

HOW TO STORE OYSTERS

As with all of our cooking classes that include seafood as part of the shopping list, we recommend buying oysters the same day you plan to eat them. This way, you’ll get the freshest available. If you want to buy them a couple days early, it’s not a problem. To store your oysters, keep them cold in the refrigerator in an open container with an icy cold towel on-top.

Very important - always keep your oysters placed with the rounded side down. This makes sure that precious seawater stays in the oyster.

Buying and Storing Oysters is easy with a few tips


HOW TO CLEAN OYSTERS

Before you’re ready to eat, let your oysters sit in a small bowl of icy water for 10 or so minutes. You’ll notice sand and other debris will fall to the bottom of the water. Remove the oysters and discard the water.

With a hard bristled brush, scrub the outside of the oyster. By doing this you’ll remove any remaining dirt, sand and debris.

How to Shuck Oysters

HOW TO SHUCK OYSTERS

Oysters can look intimating. But don’t fret! With a few simple tools you’ll be shucking oysters in no time. Remember, your goal is to keep as much water in the oyster as possible and not get any chips from the shell into the opened oyster.

Step 1: Get thick gloves and an oyster knife or other sharp (but won’t stab you!) knife. It’s easy for the knife to slip out of your hand, so the gloves are important. Williams Sonoma has a beautiful Oyster Knife with a blunt blade and guard that will make this process nice and safe.

Step 2: Hold the oyster in your palm with the rounded side down.

Step 3: The oyster is being held together by a hinge. Find the hinge, then insert your knife into it, or directly next to it. Twist your knife, and lift it slightly upwards to open the oyster hinge. Most of the time, it’s a lot easier than you think. The most oysters shucked in an hour,

according to the Guinness Book of World Records, was

How to Open the Oyster

done by a team of 10 Canadians, who shucked 8,840 oysters together. So, it can’t be that difficult!