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How to eat raw oysters?

  • z

Embarassing to have to admit this at such an advanced age... I can tackle an artichoke or pick a crab with the best of them, but I have never eaten a raw oyster. Why? I don't know how!

Yeah, that sounds goofy, but I simply don't know whether to swallow them whole or to chew.

I can find tons of info online about safety concerns, oyster varieties, best raw bars... but not a single page that explains the proper way to actually eat the darned things. None of my friends or family seem to be versed in this art, either. (and we're Marylanders, for goodness sake, there's a whole bay full of oysters a few miles away)

Help, please!

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  1. Not a lot to know. Just pick up the shell,
    sip some of the oyster liquor, put the oyster in
    your mouth and the deed is done. Some people
    gulp them down (swallowing them whole) but I
    like to savor the flavor before sending
    the critter into my stomach. It's a matter of
    personal preference so have fun figuring out
    the way you like them best.
    Enjoy.

    1 Reply
    1. re: christina z

      Yup, pick up the shell -- you might want to spritz a little lemon on or a small amount of cocktail sauce, sip the liquor and swallow. If you're starting out, ask for small oysters --even after some experience, I find the really big ones too much because I prefer to slide it down rather than chew. Happy eating! Post back on your experience.

    2. Please don't feel shy about asking! Any new eating experience is an adventure and others' imput is part of the fun.

      I could never understand why an oyster eater would want to swallow the little critters without biting into them. (That's the way I used to eat my Mom's lumpy oatmeal!!) Instead, I make the pleasure last by committing what is probably a faux pas to some--I actually try to eat the oyster in two bites--instead of one. (This is only possible with the larger, more chewy variety.) But I would never just gulp one down without chewing it. My palate isn't THAT sophisticated that all I desire is "essence of oyster!"

      At a good shellfish restaurant, they will offer a selection of various oysters from all over. And, the menu may even list the qualities of the oyster. ie, firm, briny, "clean" etc. There are so many delicious varieties. What makes a particular type of oyster available depends on such variables as the temperatures of the waters they've been harvested from, etc. There's a lot that I don't know--but a good fish place will be happy to answer your questions.

      Let us know what you think of oysters after you sample a few.

      1. I, too, have yet to eat an oyster, and after reading this article in Sunday's NY Times, I've decided not to try 'em!

        I also can't seem to forget the words of an instructor in the NYC food protection course that I took 14 years ago -- "You might as well drink out of the toilet as eat a raw oyster." (Another one of his gems -- "A rat can crawl through a hole the size of a quarter.")

        Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/27/bus...

        8 Replies
        1. re: Lisa Z

          When I lived in New Orleans, I learned an important lesson on shellfish seasons: eat oysters only in months with an "R" (not only protecting oneself against the bacteria that flourishes in the Gulf during warmer months, but flavor is better then, too) and crawfish during the summer.

          How I miss the crawfish.

          I don't know if the Pacific NW or Eastern Seaboard has a similar rule of thumb...?

          1. re: Lisa Bee

            I've posted before on the subject of eating oysters in months without an "R." I've provided a link to my previous post below. Click on the link and you'll get a fairly lengthy explanation of why people don't eat oysters in months without an "R."

            Regarding the comment comparing eating raw oysters to drinking from a sewer, obviously you don't want to eat any contaminated foods. Fish and shellfish from severely polluted water are obviously dangerous. But the beach in front of my cabin on Northern Hood Canal in the State of Washington is virtually pollution-free. There hasn't even been a red tide to worry about there. To the best of my knowledge, there isn't a pollution problem with the raw oysters sold by commercial oyster farms, although I'm more familiar with those from the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, British Columbia).

            There is just nothing more sublime that an oyster, full of seawater, fresh off the beach, shucked on the spot, and slurped off the half shell. Do I chew the oyster? Sure, so as to extract the maximum amount of flavor, although the oysters are so soft in texture that "chewing" isn't a very apt description of exactly what takes place.

            Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

            1. re: Tom Armitage

              Excellent post, Tom. I appreciate the link. I spent 8 years selling seafood to restaurants and it is amazing to me what even the best chefs don't know about oysters (one particular favorite argument with one of SF's most respected chefs was his vehement denial that Hog Island Oyster farm in Marshall, CA could raise an Atlantic (Virginica) oyster).

              I plan on sending the link to your post on to my former employer. It's a great combo of common sense and research - perfect for the layman. I hope I can locate Adam Woog's book. Thanks.

              1. re: Tom Armitage

                The months with an "R" rule may be important for the warm waters of the Gulf but I've been told by commercial fishermen that it mainly serves to help the oyster beds recover over the summer.

                On Tabasco: I like my oysters fresh and plain. If you're scared of bacteria, there is evidence that a healthy dose of Tabasco on that oyster may have an antibacterial effect. Still, my advice would be get a hepatitus vaccine and enjoy 'em as they are. Your family doctor can give you the vaccine and it's a good idea if you like raw or barely cooked seafood. And flush that nonsense toilet talk.

                1. re: Greg Spence

                  I read in a review of a scientific paper that to minimize the chance of infection, a person should drink wine or stronger with their oysters. Beer was insufficiently alcoholic to have the desired sanitizing effect.

                  So, Champagne or vodka it is!

                  1. re: ironmom

                    A crisp, grassy Sauvignon Blanc wouldn't be bad either. :)

                2. re: Tom Armitage

                  I haven't read each post in this thread so apologize if this has been covered, but there are lots of different kinds of oysters-- do folks have different recommendations for seasons or accompaniments depending on the oyster? I had some quilcenes and some pearl bays today and they were so different (the pearl bays were sweeter and cleaner, but still less flavorful than the stranges bay (also bc) oysters I tried the other week)); I love a good mignonette but can be very happy for a very long time with the heinz/horseradish/tabasco/saltines approach.

                  1. re: Deborah
                    t
                    Tom Armitage

                    Are there different seasons, or times of the year, when certain kinds of oysters are better? Not so far as I know, Deborah. The same rule applies to all kinds of oysters. They aren't as good during the warm, summer months when they are spawning, and therefore soft and milky. They're at their best in the cold winter months when they are plump and firm.

                    Are certain accompaniments better for certain types of oysters? I'm the wrong person to answer this question, since I'm a diehard advocate of eating oysters "au natural" in order to fully appreciate the subtle differences in taste noted in your post. In theory, the stronger tasting oysters should stand up better to stronger tasting accompaniments.

                    An example, by analogy, are those types of sushi that use a delicately flavored white fish (e.g., halibut or Japanese red snapper) for which the sushi chef simply squeezes a little lemon juice on the fish and instructs his customers, "No soy sauce." The point is that the soy sauce is too strong a flavor and would overwhelm the delicate taste of the fish. The same principle applies to oysters.

            2. I caught up with some friends when they were almost done with a plate of oysters the other night and had my first and only one. They put some tabasco sauce and squeeze of lemon juice on the oyster and gave it to me on a cracker. Is that wrong? Or merely amateur? It was good -- ate it in two bites. Been thinking of going to get some more to have the oyster experience more fully.

              4 Replies
              1. re: laura

                I know people who have eaten them just that way for years, so it's not just about experience with oysters.
                You may find as you experiment with different types of oysters that you want more oyster and less other stuff. But if you don't, there's nothing wrong with that! Pat

                1. re: Pat Hammond

                  Oh, Pat, you're so nice, so respectful, so tolerant, and I know I should be nice, respectful, and tolerant too, but-----YAAAAAAAHHH!!! Tobasco on an oyster? Sure I know lots and lots of people eat oysters this way, and have done so forever, including my everloving wife. But the flavors of oysters are so delicate and so subtle, that to drown them out with Tobasco stretches the limits of my "tolerance" to the breaking point. Do I "tolerate" my wife eating raw oysters with Tobasco. Of course. I've even overcome my reflexive instinct to snort and grimace when she does so. But I just can't concede that eating oysters with Tobasco is "just as good as" eating them without Tobasco. I will concede that I'm a purist when it comes to oysters, and think there's only one way to eat them, and that's off the half shell with their natural liquor. If they taste "off" when eaten that way, then you shouldn't be eating them. But if they taste of the sea, in all their glorious sweetness and brinyness, then why, oh why, would you want to pour Tabasco over them?

                  Do I eat oysters any other way than au natural? Yes, sure. For example, I have prepared and served lightly poached oysters (poached for a few seconds in their natural liquor) on a scant bed of mixed greens (spinach, kale, mustard, and a little tarragon) wilted with Pernot, and top the oyster with caviar. That combination "works" for me. But Tobasco, I'm afraid, doesn't.

                  1. re: Tom Armitage

                    Tom, Tabasco doesn't work for me either. I like 'em just the way they come: naked. Pat (aka Pollyanna? Say it isn't so!).

                    1. re: Tom Armitage

                      In Venezuela I picked up the local custom of eating raw oysters with lime juice (key) squeezed over them and the local hot sauce sprinkled on top. Every other way of serving them pales in comparison. Makes mignonette seem really wishy washy.

                2. There is already lots of good info below, but I have one thing I have to add. A good Mignonette as an accompaniment (in place of the tobasco) is hard to beat. It's very simple. Mince shallots and add to 1/3 champagne vinegar and 2/3 dry white wine (still or sparkling). Season with black pepper. There lots of variations on this theme, different vinegars, wines, etc. And I second the recommendation of starting out with smaller oysters.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: gini

                    I have lived in New England my entire life and have grown up eating oysters. Yes, us hearty New Englanders follow the "R" rule. We top them with a bit of mignonette, tip them in our mouth and we chew. Tabasco--eeewww, not chewing--a waste! There's nothing like the brine and mignonette combination....and there's nothing like a Wellfleet oyster.

                  2. One of my culinary peak experiences involved oysters. It was in the early 1970's-- we travelled through Cape Hatteras a few days after a bad storm had hit, in the Spring. The campground was pretty much deserted. We asked at a local health food store and were directed to the home of a local waterman. He sold us a half-bushel of oysters he'd gathered that morning. Charged us five dollars. We stopped at a store and bought a few lemons and an oyster shucking knife, then sat in our tent, opening and pouring down our throats the freshest, sweetest, briniest oysters on the planet. Dozens and dozens of them. There were still lots left the next morning, and I made fried oysters for breakfast.

                    I don't eat raw oysters any more. My wonderful memory can never be equalled, and I don't want to take the risk of getting sick.

                    1. When I was little, perhaps 5-6 years old, my parents took me to have my first raw oyster. I was handed a saltine with a little cocktail sauce and an oyster on the half shell. I was carefully instructed to hold the oyster in my left hand, tip it back into my mouth, chew three times, and swallow, finishing it off with the cracker. I psyched myself up for it for a while, and then off I went.

                      I tipped the oyster shell to my mouth, and I swear that thing went straight to the bottom of my stomach, not a chance for chewing. My parents say I just sat there, too stunned to eat the cracker for a few minutes, while they rolled on the floor laughing. :)

                      Blue skies,
                      Catherine

                      1. I believe there isn't one particular way to 'eat' an oyster--people either shoot them down in one swallow or chew them (I'm a chewer myself). Regarding the R-month rule, I've heard, too, that it mostly has to do with oysters' spawning seasons, which renders most temperate-climate oysters mushy and milky (as it does with most other shellfish). The advice I'd heard to counter this is to choose oysters from the northern-most beds possible (probably PEI oysters this time of year). And try your oysters with accompaniments and without--only you can decide what you like (though again, I'd prefer them naked, since there is a lot of subtlety in oysters...).

                        AK

                        1. Just slurp those "ursters" right from the shell. Add cocktail sauce if they are raw, butter if they are steamed! Directions provided by Grandad when I was 3!

                          1. I am lucky to have wonderful tiny Kumamoto's from down the road a few times a year, and this year tried my first Olympia's. Oh, my. I like to slurp them from the shell, let it sit on my tongue for a moment to savor the flavor, and then swallow. Truly small ones I might chew, but I feel that most of the flavor is the scent you get in your mouth just letting them sit briefly.

                            I have FITS when the local restaurants send them out raw in shooter glasses doused in cocktail sauce-- that is the way NOT to each precious local pristine shellfish!

                            1. If people enjoy it, fine with me. But since most of our "taste" buds are olfactory, it doesn't seem like much of a Chowhound activity.