Oh, Oyster!

by Matt on June 4, 2006

Oh_oyster0_2

Don’t ask me why but oysters always seem to get pushed into the back
corners of my mind when it comes to ideas for appetizers or when I
crave seafood. It’s not as if I don’t love them and that they don’t
rank high up on my eating scale. Perhaps it’s because it can be a tiny
bit difficult to find high quality fresh oysters (keyword: fresh), and
let’s face it, splitting open those shells with speed and finesse does
take practice.

Sometimes I wonder how much of a strange kid I was, graciously accepting of anything my dad urged me to try. I remember eating pickled pig’s feet with him at the dinner table,
devouring hunks of blue cheese on salads and eating raw oysters with
tabasco when I was 5 years old. My father knew where flavor was at, and
damn it he was going to pass it on! Thanks, Dad!

Thirty years later I still love that briny, ocean-y flavor in whatever form. Fried,
baked or smoked, oysters never fail to bring a smile to my face, and
when consumed raw it’s one of the few foods that just stops me dead in
my tracks, temporarily silencing me for a few seconds (no easy feat!),
eyes closed, head tilted back, savoring every last bit of complex
flavor contained in that shell.

Sometimes salty, sometimes fruity, sometimes creamy, always delicious. It’s as if you’re tasting the ocean.

Here
in the US most of the fresh oysters consumed can be broken down into
three basic classifications: Atlantic, Pacific and Olympia. Atlantic
oysters tend to be larger with much more defined salinity. Pacific
oysters originated in Japan and are much more refined in flavor; some
describe them as creamy with mineral notes. And Olympia oysters, from
the Pacific coast, are smaller with a much more distinguishable flavor
and aftertaste. Within these categories are numerous varieties
(Kumamoto, Malaspina, Caraquet, Pugwash, etc.) and all are equally
tasty. There a size for every taste, but generally the smaller and
younger the oyster the more subtle and delicious.

Ok, now the
safety issue. Well, make that safety issues. First, you may have heard
that oysters should only be consumed in the months that end in an "R".
October, September, you get the picture. No one seems to know exactly
where this came from and there are theories, but consider it a tale.
I’m eating oysters in June, pure and simple. Now, the second issue
should be addressed with honest concern Like all things fun,
pleasurable or tasty, eating raw oysters involves some risk. That risk
is called Vibrio vulnificus and it’s very real. According to the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration, there were a recorded 282 cases of
serious illness between 1989 and 2000 that involved the Vibrio
vulnificus bacteria. About half of those cases involved death. This
nasty bacteria is found in warm coastal waters and is not a result of
pollution and does not affect the color, taste or smell of the oyster.
If you’re a relatively healthy individual you can bounce back from a
case of Vibrio vulnificus, but if you’re at risk it’s best to skip raw
oysters entirely. Or you can cook them completely; heat destroys the
bacteria.

Ok, back to raw oysters… are you still with me?

One
of my favorite sandwiches is an oyster po’boy, with all its fried
goodness on a light bun with tangy dressing. However, when it comes to
eating high quality oysters at home, well, I leave them naked. I want
to taste as much of their subtle flavor as possible, enhancing them
with only the smallest amount of tabasco or mignonette sauce. Of
course, if you’re going to smoke or fry oysters or devour Oysters
Rockefeller you want to start with a good quality oyster, but to dress
them up and have the little guys compete with other flavors is just
cruel if you ask me.

The freshest way to enjoy oysters
involves shucking them yourselves. Anything canned or in a glass jar
just doesn’t cut it when it comes to freshness. Choose oysters that are
tightly closed, discarding any that have opened. Let your nose be your
guide. Do they smell fresh? Get a bad oyster and you’ll immediately
know it’s not right. Not an enjoyable experience.

Opening_an_oyster0

To
shuck an oyster you’ll need a sharp knife with a good handle,
preferably an oyster knife. You’ll also want a small kitchen towel to
hold the oyster. I’d love to tell you about the time "someone" I know
didn’t use a towel and ended up with dozen of small cuts on both his
bloody hands, but that would just reveal my oyster naivaté. Can’t do
that! Wrap the oyster in a towel and insert the knife on the bottom of
the oyster. You’ll need quite a bit of power here, the oyster’s
muscular grasp on its home is quite impressive. Once the tip is inside
the shell gently move it around the entire oyster, loosening the shell.
Keep the shell steady and level as you do not want to spill the liquid
inside–this is flavor, folks! Once completely opened gently remove the
oyster from the shell by cutting through its attachment. It’s a fine
dance of balancing, cutting, prying and opening, but after a few
oysters you’ll get the hang of it. And if mess up, eat the oyster! No
one has to know.

Enjoy the oysters immediately by
serving on a bed of ice. Keeping them as cold as possible is important,
too. And enjoy them however you like–with a bit of horseradish, a
simple mignonette, a dash of tabasco, cocktail sauce or just a simple
squeeze of lemon.

Oysters_on_ice_small0

Matt’s Super Basic Mignonette Sauce
This
French sauce is so easy to create and is ready immediately. You can add
a dash of salt but keep in mind that oysters can be very salty. I like
to keep it simple.

INGREDIENTS
2/3 cup vinegar (red, white, champagne, sherry, tarragon, use any kind you like)
3 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black or white pepper
dash of salt to taste

METHOD
Combine all ingredients and chill. Spoon over oysters on the half shell and enjoy.


Disclaimer:
I am not a doctor, a scientist or nutritionist. Please proceed with
caution and if you have any questions about shellfish, oysters, clams
and seafood and their safety please consult your doctor.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael June 4, 2006 at 3:58 pm

Wow, am I the first to make a comment? Nice new digs. Welcome home.

I love oysters, too. Here in Central Florida, we’re mostly stuck with large, salty oysters (O. virginica). They’re so large, one often needs two bites to them finish off. That said, they are CHEAP (a bushel will set you back $25!). A local restaurant on the coast has served so many of them over the years that their parking lot is actually paved with crushed oyster shells.

I’ve grown to appreciate the (often brassy) charm of our local shellfish. I love them fried in a mix of coarse cornmeal and Panko (methode anglais). I love them raw, with a shot of tabasco. I love them poached in a cream sauce over snapper.

So, Matt — do you chew? Or do you swallow? Me, I’m a chewer. And a swisher. Which makes eating oysters a home-front affair, mostly.

iamchanelle June 4, 2006 at 4:03 pm

ok, NOT a fan of oysters, but i am a huge fan of your site – LOVE the new location! i look forward to many more enjoyable reads. great job!

Matt Armendariz June 4, 2006 at 4:05 pm

Hey Michael! You just made my day!

I actually grew up in Galveston, on the coast of Texas, and with the exception of our shrimp and some fish, well, let’s just say that I’m used to quantity and not quality. But man oh man, a bushel for $25???? Where do I sign up? I’m drooling right now thinking about fried food!

I’m not one to let them fly down the hatch. I love chewing and getting all the flavor, even if they are of the small variety.

And I hear you about it being a home-front affair!. I found myself slurping the last drops of liquid right from a shell and realized I must not have looked too mannered :)

Chubby Hubby June 4, 2006 at 7:30 pm

Congrats on the move. I’ve already updated my links.

I love your opening and closing photos. Very sensual.

My fave way of enjoying oysters is as “oh luak”, which is a Singaporean (and Malaysian) oyster omelet, burdened with extra starch and a tart spicy sauce.

Charles June 4, 2006 at 9:02 pm

I have learned to shove the knife in quickly with power.

I have access to netarts bay oysters here, the so called mediums are OYFG huge!!

They have a sweeter taste with less saltiness. When i was in seatle it seems all the oysters were really salty!

melissa mcgee June 4, 2006 at 9:43 pm

first, matt… WE MADE IT! i’m so glad to have found a new home – and on the same day, no less! kismet.

secondly, about your post:
what an interesting look into something that i’ve often enjoyed but never known anything about! i have one question about raw oysters though – and it has to do with the ongoing debate “to bite or not to bite” – which side of the fence is everyone on concerning that?

Helen June 5, 2006 at 12:23 am

New digs! Looks great! Just thought I’d let you know that your RSS feed doesn’t seem to be working?

Lisa June 5, 2006 at 3:23 am

Hi Matt.. love your site and have been lurking for a few weeks now. I finally decided to unlurk and comment on the oysters as they are my most favorite food in all of the world (thanks to my Dad as well). Was perplexed when it didn’t show up on the other site and well.. guess I know why now! heee! Anyhoo.. I was stared at by my mom and others with this look of astonishment when my Dad would order himself and I a dozen clams on the halfshell.. a 5 year old gal slurpin up the salty, slightly metalic goodness right next to her papa. heeee! Glad you decided to move.. you’ve done a fantastic job with your blog – very enjoyable, thanks!

Kevin June 5, 2006 at 1:09 pm

Hi Matt–congrats on the new online residence. Looks great!

I do a good deal of meandering around the ‘net looking at food blogs. I see your link (I should note–your OLD link) soooooooo often! There are many, many people who need to get busy and update. It’s a great compliment to you, Mr. Snail Man. ;)

Tana June 5, 2006 at 3:28 pm

Okay, my oyster concoction borrows liberally from the Hog Island Oyster Company’s “Hog Wash.”

Theirs:
Hog Wash
¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
¼ cup natural rice vinegar
1 large shallot, peeled and finely diced
1 large Jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
½ bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime

Me, I leave out the shallot, and add a tablespoon of tequila or vodka. I also use jalapeños from a jar sometimes, since you can also add the brine, which adds a nice kick.

Oysters and tequila, baby. Wanna swap shots?

jared June 5, 2006 at 4:53 pm

Great new site design, and congrats on getting to this point.

I grew up in the South eatin’ oysters the old-fashioned way, on a saltine with a shot of tobasco. Your mignonette sounds a lot better.

Robyn June 11, 2006 at 3:26 pm

Hi Matt,

Great site, I’ve been an occasional lurker over on the other one and just saw this marevelous post on oysters. My Dad also introduced me to oysters, I have pictures of me eating them on the halfshell on the deck of a rental cottage on the Oregon coast when I was about 3 years old! To this day they are ultimate treat for me as I live in landlocked Colorado.

Liz June 27, 2006 at 6:11 pm

Mmmm… delicious. Dad-food rocks. Mine got me into peppers and game, of all things. :)

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