Aw Shucks! All About Oysters: History, Tips and Advice for Serving this Luxurious Food
Oysters are a luxurious food. A delicacy, sophisticated and one of those things in life you must try at least once. To get the best experience though, definitely choose well to ensure you have the best experience with them. Of course serving them with Champagne would be a luxury lovers gourmet delight! I had a chance to chat with Ted Basetti of Whole Foods Markets; he’s the Seafood Coordinator for the Pacific Northwest Region and had some great insight and tips for enjoying this gourmet food.
History of Oysters
There is a long link to oysters and love. Reputed for their aphrodisiac powers, favored for centuries by lovers, as far back as the Roman emperors. The Greek goddess of love, was said to have emerged from the sea on an oyster shell, immediately giving birth to Eros and the word “aphrodisiac”. The famous Casanova, renowned lover, would start a meal, dining on 12 dozen oysters
Whether its for Valentine’s Day or any day, Whole Foods Market has kindly shared their tips and tricks for buying and preparing oysters at home. For oyster-loving people or that budding Casanova looking for ways to sweep their sweetheart off her feet, Whole Foods Market has the perfect aphrodisiac – a romantic and gourmet Valentine’s Day experience at home with oysters.
How To Prepare Oysters
People may think oysters are too complicated to prepare, but the seafood specialists at Whole Foods have put together some tips to demystify oysters and help beginners select and shuck a meal to remember. Things to keep in mind when buying oysters:
- Look for shells that are closed tightly and not broken (barnacles are okay)
- Make sure to ask the local fish monger where the oysters were harvested – this will affect the flavor
- When you tap the shell, it shouldn’t sound hollow, otherwise the oyster could be dead
- For beginners, choose smaller or medium-sized varieties such as Fanny Bays from Vancouver Island – they tend to be sweeter with a ‘cucumber finish’
Once at home, oyster shucking isn’t as complicated as it looks. Avoid a ‘bad shuck’ by following these tips:
- Use a dedicated oyster shucking knife – they have a short blade and pointed tip
- Wash and/or scrub the oysters to remove sand or contaminants
- Don’t shuck oysters in your palm, rest it on the counter on top of a damp cloth
- To open, work the tip of the knife into the back hinge of the oyster (take care to avoid stabbing the meat) and turn the knife to pop open the shell slightly
- Run the tip of the knife along the top and bottom shell to cut the abductor muscle and release the meat
- Serve immediately, presenting the oysters in the bottom shell on a tray of ice with lemon wedges
Tips provided by Whole Foods Markets
Interview with Ted Bassetti, Seafood Coordinator for Whole Foods Market, Pacific Northwest Region
What is the best way to store oysters?
Keep oysters cold at all times. Ask for a bag of ice to transport the oysters home from the store. At home, remove your oysters from the bag/package, place them in a bowl, and cover with a wet towel. Keep the towel moist at all times. Your refrigerator is a surprisingly dry environment. Keep your oysters covered and protect them from blowing dry air.
How do you know when they’ve gone bad?
Oysters will usually pop open when they’re dead or dying, but not always.
- Tap your oyster with something solid like your oyster knife or knife handle. If it sounds hollow then pass.
- Keep an eye out for chipped or broken shells, pass when you see them.
- Finally, give your shucked oyster a sniff. You should smell a mild briny ocean-like smell.
What are your favorite varieties?
Tough call, like choosing my favorite child. Generally speaking, I shy away from the big “beach” or “grilling” oysters. Sometimes as large as a flip-flop. The half-shell is not my cup of tea either. These are best for chowders or cutting into smaller pieces for frying. Although many people still slurp them down. I like Fanny Bays, Kusshi’s, and Kumomoto’s best. They’re middle of the road in size, easy to shuck, and the flavor profiles are great. Fanny Bay’s from Vancouver Island have a nice mild briny flavor, a perfect oyster for shucking. Kusshi’s are from the islandas well, though are smaller with a deeper cup and plump oyster meat. Kusshi’s have moresubstance, a firmer meat and subtle richness to them. Kumo’s are much along the same lines as Kusshi’s in my view. They are smaller, richer, plump and great for half-shell eating.
What is your favorite way to serve them?
Being a bit of a purist I really enjoy oysters on the ½ shell sans any sauce. Oysters are like wine, many subtle flavors and differences to appreciate. Saucing them up kind of ruins that. However, everyone needs to start their oyster journey somewhere and if that’s with cocktail sauce then so be it. One can learn and grow from there.
If I were hosting an oyster dinner it would look like this:
- Start the bbq in the back yard and let it come up to temp.
- Gather my guests inside. Shake up a batch of Plymouth martini’s Shuck a load Fanny’s, Kusshi’s, and Kumo’s for my guests. Serve on a platter of crushed ice. Ample and totally optional sides of lemon wedges, fresh grated horseradish, homemade cocktail sauce, and homemade mignonette sauce.
- Back out to the grill and let my guests have fun bbq’n more oysters. Place them on the BBQ until they pop open; enjoy the oysters hot and with optional sauces.
- While they’re outside grilling I’m back in the kitchen breading oysters. Fresh shucked Fanny’s rolled in flour, dipped in egg, then rolled in coarse-ground corn meal. Fry until golden brown, serve with homemade aioli.
What do you wish more people knew about oysters?
I wish people could get over their fear of oysters. “They’re cold, slimy, too salty, ewww gross, etc.” Oysters are a true delicacy and to have such good oysters in one’s backyard is a true gift. Not to enjoy them is cheating one’s self of the good things in life.
I wish people approached oysters like they do wine. Explore different appellations; savor the difference in flavor and texture. Learn to shuck your own oysters, embrace it. When you travel to different places seek out the local oyster, expand your oyster horizons.
ABOUT WHOLE FOODS MARKETS: Whole Foods Markets is committed to its communities, sourcing locally grown products whenever possible and raising money for local charities through a variety of in-store events and programs. Visit wholefoodsmarket.com for the latest featured products, recipes and events in your area.
By Angela Tunner