Is there is anyone who immediately took to oysters? Maybe someone from a seafaring family who was fed them at a very young age, but other than that, they are most often an acquired taste. My introduction came when I secured a dream summer job as a first mate on a 64’ Hatteras motor yacht. Our day trips were catered by the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club and always included dozens of the freshest oysters available. They were exotic and mysterious to me at the time but my captain told me that if I wanted to have any credibility with the guests, I better get my oyster game on quickly. This was not an easy process as I was a Great Lakes waterman and part of the the allure of oysters is the essence of the sea they emit. I handled it though and was quickly breaking in the oyster virgins and feeling quite salty about it.
I’ve since become convinced that half the allure of eating raw oysters is that it really gives one a sense of being of the sea, even when sitting in a landlocked restaurant. For those who find themselves in the ocean on a regular basis, I liken eating oysters to that sensation one gets when surfing or swimming and duck diving through a wave, coming up to the foamy white ocean mist and breathing in the essence of the sea. You can take that sensation a step further by following your oyster slurp with a sip of grassy sauvignon blanc that will give the feeling of lying on the beach amongst the beach grass after a fun ocean romp. That’s where I like to take it in my head anyway.
On top of that, the process itself is quite sexy and well, we all know the supposed benefits of oyster consumption. Just FYI, those benefits primarily stem from the high levels of zinc found in oysters. They are our best-known food source of zinc, an essential mineral for mental health, immune function, and fertility. Their impressive zinc content is the reason for oysters’ reputation as an aphrodisiac, which has never been proven, but it’s a fun concept. Iron, selenium, vitamins A and B12 and copper are also represented nicely in oysters along with a decent shot of protein.
So for the oyster rookie, here are some suggestions for easing into it. First off, pick a restaurant that serves them in high volume. The higher the turnover, the more likely your oysters will be fresh. You want to know your oysters just came off ice and were shucked specifically for your order. Make sure they smell good Just like a glass of wine, you first want to get “the nose” for the oyster, as it will help you recognize taste variations and the “merroir,” which is similar to “terroir” in wine. It’s how the flavor is affected by where they are grown. Make sure it smells like the sea and is pleasant to the nose. Make sure they’re cold, this is critical and I can't emphasize this enough. The shell and the meat should be ice cold! If they're not, don’t eat them. Be discerning at oyster events -- even five minutes off the ice in the warm air is not desired. And quite possibly my biggest piece of advice would be to start small. Remember this is going to be a new sensation and there are varieties like Kumamoto’s from Baja that are small and manageable, perfect for easing into the new textures and flavor sensations you will be experiencing. Request the smallest variety this from your server or shucker, you will be thankful.
Have your first one with nothing on it. Any topping will change the flavor profile and make it hard for your palate to know exactly what the oyster tastes like. After that, then proceed to the sauces and condiments and try a squeeze or two of citrus. Don’t feel limited to lemon -- lime and even grapefruit work just as well. A classic French mignonette is nice as well and consists of red wine vinegar, finely diced shallots, and fresh ground black pepper. A few drops are all you need as a little bit goes a long way.
Cocktail sauce is a common option and while the horseradish is great, ketchup has no business on an oyster. Would you put ketchup on any other fresh seafood?
As far as the actual eating part, separate the meat from the shell before you slurp, but with a fork not your finger! Don't use the fork to pick it up, hold it at the hinge, then slurp that sweet meat and all of its liquid from the edge. Then chew, because like a fine wine, an oyster must be aerated. Its flavor is just as much in the meat as the liquid, and the real flavors will be released as you break that up. Follow your oyster with a sip of wine like grassy sauvignon blanc that I mentioned or Albarino. There are others that work well and any restaurant serving oysters should be able to help you pair a wine with them.
Fish 101 tops my list of favorite local spots for oysters because they meet all the criteria I listed above and have a killer happy hour M-F from 4-6pm where they have $1 oysters. Other options include Moonlight Lounge in Encinitas, Kings Fish House and Pelly’s in Carlsbad.<< Back