We’ve all been there.
You get to an after-work meet up with a gf and realize oysters are currently one dollar and fifty cents. YES. We will take one full dozen, maybe two.
Each and every time the same thing happens. We ask the bartender which one’s are the best. They say just get a couple of each and we do. While in deep conversation about clients, situationships, and gossip we blow through the tray while slugging our Sauvignon Blanc, never actually realizing what is going in our mouths.
Feeling both powerless and curious I decided to seek out some real answers on how to ACTUALLY order oysters at Happy Hour. My first call was to the restaurant in NYC with THE most Instagrammable tray of oysters in the city, Crave Fishbar. We spoke with Brian Owens, the owner, to get some answers.
Here’s his advice to beginner oyster connoisseurs:
Taste and Texture
Oysters have a vast range of flavor profiles, known as “terroir”. Much like wine, this depends on the waters they come from. Factors that play in are currents and nutrients. Oysters are a water filter and water flows through them all day long, they pick up hints of what’s going on around them.
Some of the more common flavors you may taste in an oyster are:
- hints of melon or cucumber
- salt or “brine”
Texture-wise, oysters are generally described as plump and springy.
East Coast vs. West Coast
There are five known species of American oysters that are commonly separated by east coast versus west coast or Atlantic versus Pacific. One species of oyster, called Atlantic makes up 85% of the oysters harvested in the US.
East coast “Atlantic” oysters
- SHELLS: Smooth, tear-dropped with ridges
- TASTE: Briny with a savory finish. Varies based on catch location. Long Island North oysters are mild, but from Rhode Island and Massachusetts all the way up into Canada, the oysters are much brinier
- NAMES: Bluepoints and Wellfleets
- SHELLS: Fluted, rough, and jagged shells. Deeper like a small bowl.
- TASTE: Buttery and sweet with different finishes like melon and cucumber. Can be nutty. As you get higher north into Canada and Alaska, they usually pick up a little more brine
- NAMES: Kumamoto, Pacific, and x.
How To Order Oysters
Experienced oyster lovers will probably already have an idea of the types of oysters they prefer.
But for those less experienced, it’s okay to ask your waiter for a recommendation. Owens said beginners should generally start with medium-sized and milder, sweeter oysters that are described as less briny.
On the east coast, bluepoint oysters are an easy-to-eat, beginner-friendly choice. Most west coast oysters are good to try, too.
“You don’t want to assault a beginner’s taste buds with a lot of brine and turn them off. As they get to enjoy mild oyster, then they can move up to different flavors,” he said.
And if you’re really in doubt, order a platter of different types of oysters. That way you’ll be able to learn what you like.
How To Eat Oysters
At this point, you’ve done your research, ordered your oyster, and it smells and looks wonderful.
Now comes the part that trips up some people — eating it.
Owens recommends eating your first oyster “naked,” or without any condiments. Take your fork and make sure the oyster meat is separated from its shell, and then slurp the oyster and all its juice out. Chew it a few times (don’t swallow right away) so you get the full flavor of the oyster.
Then eat the other oysters however you like — with shallot sauce, lemon, horseradish, cocktail sauce, Tabasco sauce, or mignonette sauce, just to name a few classic condiments.
Ultimately, eating oysters is about enjoyment, so devour yours however you see fit and feel comfortable. As Owens said, “People like oysters the way they like them.”
Photo: Ashley Sears