Whether it's eating them raw on the half-shell served with a side of mignonette sauce, grilling them, frying them and stuffing them in a delicious New Orleans Po Boy Sandwich, baking them in Oysters Rockefeller - a classic recipe that originated in New Orleans, or even smoking them - oysters are a favourite in The Chef & The Dish Test Kitchen.
It’s no doubt that the majority of oysters in North America are enjoyed at a restaurant, but at The Chef & The Dish, we believe in constantly learning new awesome home cooked meals. Cooking together is a fantastic date-night, and cooking with your kids is so rewarding, and adding oysters to your cooking repertoire will add a whole new level of satisfaction.
Here are a few 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 here - many aren't native to us. Several oyster varieties are only native to the Asian Pacific, specifically Japan and Australia. Now of course, with modern technology, they are cultivated in farms that produce beautiful shellfish here in our backyard - but if you find yourself in Japan, make sure to seek out Chef Yoshimi to guide you on the ultimate oyster experience during your visit.
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 it's 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
HOW TO STORE OYSTERS
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. Just 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.
HOW TO CLEAN OYSTERS
Immediately 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
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
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.
Need some extra oyster attention? Want to book an awesome at-home experience for your husband or wife? Or perhaps you want to host a fantastic dinner party! The Chef & The Dish cooking classes will come to your rescue! Send The Chef & The Dish and email and ask to design a special cooking class that will feature oysters. Chef Gason can teach you how to make the New Orleans' original dish - Oysters Rockefeller, or we can customize a cooking class just for you. During your class, you will be taught how to prepare oysters at home, and together you'll cook dishes that will become new favourites.
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