Everything you need to know about oysters

Oysters on the half shell | Image via Pexels

It’s fall in South Carolina, and being an east coast state means we have access to some decent shellfish. That means? It’s oyster roast season.

Whether you’re hosting, enjoying, or skipping out on oyster roasts this season, we’re sharing a guide on everything you need to know about these slimy shellfish, including info. on oyster species, tutorials on shucking + a list of popular condiments to serve them with. Let’s dive on in. 👇

Types of oysters 

While oysters come in all sorts of varieties, there are only five species of oysters in the US. Here’s the rundown on their origin, qualities + locations:

Atlantic/Eastern | East Coast + Gulf of Mexico

Origin: Native to North America

Look: Large + smooth teardrop-shape shell

Taste: Sweet + briny (varies depending on where they’re grown; brinier in the North)

European Flat/Belon | East + West coasts

Origin: Western European coast

Look: Moss-colored, smooth + saucer-like shells

Taste: Bold, crisp + meaty

Pacific | West Coast

Origin: Brought to the U.S. from Japan in 1920

Look: Fluted shells with a deep cup

Taste: A mild taste with slightly sweet hints of fruits + vegetables. Usually a good amount of briny + metallic taste.

Kumamoto | West Coast

Origin: Kyushu, Japan

Look: Fluted, pointy shells with deep cups

Taste: Mild, sweet + fruity

Olympia | West Coast

Origin: Native to the West Coast of North America

Look: Very small

Taste: Unique + pungent coppery taste

Olympia oysters were decimated in the early 20th century due to pollution and over-harvesting. Wild populations still exist but are protected.

The “r” month rule
It’s a well-known + widely practiced rule that raw oysters should only be consumed in months containing the letter “r.” 

While this mnemonic may have been the case in 1599, when it appeared in the English cookbook “Dyets Dry Dinner”, due to our advances in refrigeration, regulations on harvesting during “red tides” (a.k.a. the discoloration of seawater caused by a bloom of toxic red algae) + the commercialization of oyster farming, summer months are now pro-slurping

It is to be known, however, that the warmer waters cause oysters to spawn, thus losing 30-40% of their body mass. The weight loss makes the oyster more watery + thin, hence changing the taste + consistency that most desire. 

Ways to prepare + eat oysters

While many oyster connoisseurs will tell you that raw is the only way to go, there are plenty of folks out there who prefer their meals cooked. Here are some of the most popular ways to consume oysters:

Raw

Roasted

Steamed

Fried

How to shuck oysters 

We’re sure we’re not the only ones who have accidentally sliced their hand with both the shucking knife + oyster shell. Good news: there are gloves for that.

Knowing how to properly shuck an oyster is not only important for efficient enjoyment, it is also important for your safety.

Did you know that you are supposed to open oysters from the bottom hinge? Check out America’s Test Kitchen’s 60-second video so you can shuck like a pro at your next oyster roast. (Pro tip: always point the knife away from your hand.)

What you’ll need: a small towel, gloves, an oyster knife and, most importantly, an oyster

Oyster condiments

Though many will argue that oysters should be enjoyed without any condiments, they are commonly served with crackers + various sauces. Here are some popular add-ons to give them an extra kick of flavor: 

○ Sliced lemons
Mignonette
Horseradish/cocktail sauce

Oyster sauce

Qualities of well-prepared oysters

There are some dos + don’ts when it comes to preparing oysters to serve. According to Rowan Jacobsenauthor of the 2007 bestselling book, “A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in North America– these are some qualities of well-prepared oysters that you should be vigilant of:

Meat should be opaque, not translucent.

Meat should be whole and not cut in any way (commonly referred to as whole bellied vs. scrambled).

There shouldn’t be much liquidknown as “liquor” – in the shell. (Larger quantities of liquid signify the meat being punctured.)

Additional info + resources 

Oyster shell recycling 

History of oyster knives

Local oyster bars + restaurants 

10 interesting oyster facts

11 oyster recipes to make at home