5@5 - An oyster primer for National Oyster Day
August 4th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

The world is your oyster - especially seeing that August 5 is National Oyster Day.

In preparation for the molluscan merrymaking, we've recruited Executive Chef Eric Woods of Blue Water Grill to drop the bivalve 411.

Cracking the Code (and Shells) on Oysters: Eric Woods

1. The East Coast, West Coast rivalry
"Leave your gang signs at the door. While all oysters may not be created equal, both East and West Coast oysters have their advantages and you can absolutely eat both in the same meal.

East Coast oysters tend to be flatter and have a thinner meat, which can be forgiving for a beginner especially. West Coast oysters tend to have a deeper cup with a jagged edge because of the rougher West Coast waters - they also have a bigger bite with a creamier taste.

Feeling overwhelmed with that oyster list? Some good ones to look for that are on many menus include: Malpac or Blue Island (East Coast) and Kumamoto, Fanny Bay or Hama Hama (West Coast)."

2. OK, they’re here...now what?
"Oftentimes, guests will question how to 'properly' eat the oysters. I definitely have my personal favorite way to eat them, although you can try any way that works for you.

Bottom line is this: You don’t want to totally mask the taste of the oyster. The condiments are there to complement the flavor. You definitely want to taste the liquor of the oyster, which is the liquid inside the shell.

When the oysters arrive, they will typically be accompanied by four condiments: horseradish, cocktail sauce, fresh lemon, and a mignonette. If you order multiple types of oysters, the server should always identify which is which. They will typically start with East Coast and then move on to West Coast. I would recommend eating them that way too, especially if you are a beginner.

Pick the shell up, add a squeeze of lemon juice or the mignonette (I like to take the shallots out of the mignonette and add those alone as they have been pickled by the vinegars and butcher’s cracked pepper), then add some horseradish to the cocktail sauce for an extra kick before putting it on top - or just add the horseradish alone.  You can always alternate which you add to each oyster.

All done? Return the shell, turned upside down, to the ice tray it was served on."

3. Is there an oyster season?
"Some say there are certain months you shouldn’t eat oysters, but as harvesting has become more sophisticated, this notion has really become less and less the case. One reason why some might suggest sticking to fall, winter and spring for oyster indulgence is because oysters spawn in the warm summer months, usually May through August - although natural Gulf water oysters can spawn year-round due to the warm waters.

Spawning oysters should not be served. How can you tell? They will have a heavy white substance in the shell and will have a foul creamy taste. This does not mean you cannot find great, fresh oysters in the summer months. Trust me, I use them every day!

Not up for raw oysters this time around? You can always try oyster po' boys, baked oysters, oysters Rockefeller, oysters casino, or even an oyster taco (a fried oyster put back in its shell with spicy guacamole, shredded lettuce and pico de gallo) - yum!"

4. How do I know they’re fresh?
"By law, we of course follow certain regulations when it comes to seafood, which includes ensuring the tags (which includes the harvest date) follows the seafood no matter where in the restaurant it goes. If half the oysters are in the kitchen and the other half are up at the raw bar counter, the tag has been photocopied and one tag remains with each set.

There should also a strict receiving process and procedure done on site for all seafood to ensure that the guest is receiving the freshest, best-quality items. This process includes taking the temperature of everything as it arrives and logging it immediately."

5. Aw, shucks! Don’t (OK, maybe) try this at home.
"If you are going to take on the adventure of oysters at home, be prepared - it can be quite a process for those not familiar with it. When at a reputable vendor, look for fresh oysters that are wet, packed on ice, tightly closed, and have no damage or chips. You can even ask to see the tags, which tell you the harvest date.

Take them home, packed on ice of course, and scrub them under ice cold water until clean with a food-safe brush. Do not let them sit in water. Now, it’s time to shuck.

This can be a bit tricky for a beginner, so you may first want to have a demo from a professional. Either way, just be sure to approach this slowly and safely.

Fold a damp kitchen towel in half (the long way) for a long rectangle shape and fold that over the oyster, clenching the back-rounded portion of the oyster in the inside of the towel. Ensure the palm of your hand is completely protected by the towel and that the oyster is being held tightly inside, applying pressure with your thumb on top and fingers on the bottom to the flat part of the shell.

Place the oyster knife (and yes, you MUST use an oyster knife for this!) about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch in the front of the oyster and twist the knife to open the shell, being careful not to stab all the way through the oyster. Then, run the knife along the top shell to cut the muscle, being careful not to cut the meat.

Under the meat, you have to cut the other half of the muscle, running knife along bottom of shell under meat, about 1/4-inch through the back. If you got this far, congratulations!

Now, serve your oyster on crushed ice with the classic and condiments and enjoy."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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soundoff (198 Responses)
  1. Ann

    more thought and debate on freaking oysters then the nation crumbling around us.....

    August 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  2. Charlotte

    Yeeeeccccchhhhh. :P

    August 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  3. NIKO from Down under

    We have so many Oysters here it is National Oyster Day every day of the year.
    Come on down and try some real oysters you blokes!

    August 7, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  4. neepsandtats

    I'm going to say "on the blink of extinction" from now on. :D

    August 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  5. EJ in Metro Houston

    NO animal should be eaten alive!!! Shame on all of you!

    August 6, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • AleeDfrom Home Sweet Home


      August 6, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  6. MDOysterLover

    Oyster are the best on the East coast. I've been told that you should avoid the oysters in the South during warm months if you are not used to eating them.

    August 5, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  7. The Oyster Lady

    OMGosh, what a delightful journey it's been reading these comments of passion, insults, inquiry, experience, ego and humor, and a touch of eroticism halfway through...nice! I'm from South Africa and happened upon the fact that it's National Oyster Day in USA while on Twitter and followed the item and somehow ended up here. Thanx everyone who has commented, it's been a veritable feast reading here.

    I sell (our country's) West Coast Oysters (very cold waters) at markets and have eagerly watched quite a few American visitors sample my oysters, and every time they're very impressed. Wish I could sample all the various regions in USA to decide which I love most.

    For me a squeeze of lemon and a dash of ground black pepper.... YUM!

    And please,... never just swallow an oyster whole – eat it with a lingering chewing and taste journey of all the flavors in your mouth. A sensual food – just close your eyes. I challenged a man who bought one oyster from me and after carefully dressing it with condiments, tipped it into his mouth and swallowed it whole. This was too much for me and I reprimanded him "Please do me a favor next time you eat an oyster, you're to eat it, chew it, and taste all the flavors in your mouth before swallowing it!! He looked at me and said: "Hit me with another one!" Well, what happened was fabulous, he loved it and was so taken with the experience :-)

    For the "oyster virgins" out there, my advice is this: If you love Sushimi (Sushi – raw fish) you will love oysters. If you don't like sushimi, don't bother.

    I see it first hand, people either LOVE raw fresh shucked oysters or HATE 'em. No in-betweeners and I'm thoroughly entertained by the grimaces and facial expressions of the non-oyster eaters. For oyster lovers it's pure passion and I love seeing their eyes glaze over.

    Oh yes, for those of you who may have visited Cape Town and attended the yearly Knysna Oyster Festival – the oysters are grown in warmer waters of Port Elizabeth and in my humble opinion not as nice as the colder West Coast Oysters. So here we also have various coasts and various opinions of which are the best oysters ;-)

    Happy National Oyster Day to you all!!

    August 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Osqua

      I have eaten great oysters from USA east coast, west coast, gulf, from Bordeaux, from Knysna and from the SA west coast. Nothing beats SA west coast oysters!

      August 6, 2011 at 8:07 am |
      • The Oyster Lady

        Nice one....! Thx

        August 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  8. patrick kennair

    Oyster Lovers great news, go to Facebook at Creative Hang Ups and under Louisiana Lifestyles you will see some of the Greatest Oyster Gifts ever Hand Made by a local..All out of Oyster shells and some with a Reproduction Oyster that is out of this world looks ready to eat..US Pat.1995. Get your orders in and beat the Holiday rush. Clocks, Platters and many other items..Thanks..

    August 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  9. Blahh

    Living Dead Girl

    August 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  10. Blahh

    The slurping noise!!! that is enough to turn your stomach. It's rude to slurp soup, but ok to slurp slimy buggy things? Pardon me whilst I vomit

    August 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • KC

      Hello Blahh–look at my joke –go up a few posts–you'll appreciate it.

      August 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  11. sepultura13

    Here's where I get my fix when I'm jonesing for oysters: http://www.danandlouis.com/index/Oysters
    I think I'll head there after work, but before I go see Slayer, Exodus, and Rob Zombie!! :-)

    The Brooklyn Restaurant in Seattle, WA also has a great selection.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  12. Proud Vegann

    Anyone who is dumb enough to eat oysters deserves the many illnesses they will have visited upon themselves. And trust me, they WILL be MANY.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Vegan Mother of Mother Earth

      I like oysters, but I dont have time to eat em. Im off to trader joes to return my recalled spinach, salmonella lettuce, and my tomatoes that have some other kind of bacteria. Not worry – I think my veganess is balancing out all the unhealthy vegetable toxins in my system....

      August 28, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  13. sepultura13

    Oysters! I love 'em love 'em love 'em...they are SO delicious! An Aussie friend of mine introduced me to the delights of slurping down raw oysters and I've been hooked ever since. I love the Kumamotos, Netarts, and Yaquina Bay varieties the best – I'd take a Pacific Northwest-grown oyster over a tar-filled Gulf oyster any day...

    August 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  14. Multi-Tasking @ Work

    Oysters any way except stewed...I hate Oyster Stew

    August 5, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  15. humtake

    I look forward to our 2 bushels of oysters every Superbowl. They aren't that risky, between a few of us we gorge on these things. It's like anything else. If you don't normally eat raw meats, then you shouldn't pig out on it. You have to give your body time to get used to eating any kind of food you don't normally eat.

    August 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  16. DDSilks

    My favorite is breaded fried oysters on a bun with lettuce, tartar sauce and lemon. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

    August 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  17. I Heart Evil Grin

    @KC lol groan

    August 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  18. KC

    Reminds me of that old joke.. "Waiter, how do I eat these oysters??" After getting the explanation he calls the waiter back and asks again–"How do I eat these oysters???" Again he gets the explanation, again he calls the waiter back–"How do I eat these oysters???" After the 5th time the waiter who is now exasperated says, "Sir, do you want me to show you??" The man says "That would be great" , and the waiter picks up one of the oysters and with a grand flourish eats the oyster. "Wow, thanks!" says the diner–"That one came back up on me! 3 times"

    August 5, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  19. I Heart Evil Grin

    And Europeans have no sense of Humor! Have a sucky rest of the day!

    August 5, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  20. Normandd

    American oysters are bland and tasteless. To get a really good quality oyster that is delicious and sustainable, you must absolutely get it from Europe. Americans have no concept of what good quality seafood is.

    August 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • I heart Evil Grin

      My Name is Normandd and I have a superior palate because I eat Ur a pee'n oysters boo, you're all inferior to my pee!!!!!

      August 5, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
      • Jeann

        No, he is right. American oysters are serverely lacking n all ways, but on the bright side, Americans cannot cook, so no loss there.

        August 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Vegan Mother of Mother Earth

      I agree! The ones we have in America aren't raised sustanaibly. In fact over the last 500 years stocks are down almost 2% – why in another millenium there won't be any!

      August 28, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  21. Soulerman

    Can somebody tell me if Lynnhaven oysters at Virginia Beach are any good? I tried them recently, and they were simply awesome. However I have very limited experience with oysters and don't know where on scale of quality this kind is.

    August 5, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  22. Bonita

    Aren't they on the blink of extinction? Earthlings, please don't eat anything unusual. Just eat wheat/rice and a little meat and vegetables/fruits. Let the ocean be spared from our abuse and greed!

    August 5, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Owl96

      O Oysters,' said the Carpenter,
      'You've had a pleasant run!
      Shall we be trotting home again?'
      But answer came there none -
      And this was scarcely odd, because
      They'd eaten every one.

      August 5, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • I Heart Evil Grin

      Sorry, I am planning on commiting Crustacean Murder for dinner tonight- and I can promise it will be a bonita meal. Lobstahs!

      August 5, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  23. Owl96

    The article never really told how to eat an oyster. How do you get from the shell into your mouth?

    August 5, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Soulerman

      You pick it up from ice with goodies up, squeeze lemon juice and add whatever you want on top and then use the shell like a spoon, using your teeth and tongue as a comb to clear the shell. Works magic with your (your man's) libido afterwards. You can finish oyster with a sip of white wine.

      August 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  24. harry

    I love them, but some of them may want to kill me.

    August 5, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  25. amused123

    My oyster days ended a five years ago. The circumstances were not ideal, nobody got sick, but me. Fate perhaps; NEVER in my life have I felt so awful for 2 weeks. The feeling will even cause an Atheist to make deals with God. It was like nothing I had ever imagined. The wonderful taste/experience is not worth the risk anymore. Score one for Campylobacter. Damn! I miss them., but can't bring myself to induldge :(

    August 5, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  26. imnalen

    The safest and most effective way to open an oyster is to hold it in a towel as described, insert the blunt tip of an oyster knife into the hinge, bear down, and twist the knife. When you feel the hinge pop, the entire shell will release.

    August 5, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  27. colonelingus

    Reminds me of the time when we decided to open a zoo to attract some business around here.
    Bad idea. Had to shut it down when the oyster died. Tried a Badger petting farm. For some reason, that fell apart too.

    August 5, 2011 at 1:54 am |
  28. Porkasaurus Rex

    A little spritz of lemon, that's all you need.

    I introduced a darling little Jewish girl to oysters on the half shell down around Morgan City, and I'll never forget how wide her beautiful eyes got when she tasted it. She ended up preferring a little cocktail sauce and a cracker with her oyster, but I totally fell in love with her that night as she ate platters of fresh oysters.

    August 5, 2011 at 1:34 am |
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