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Oysters, chew or swallow?

  • e

I just finished an interesting article in the April 10, 2006 issue of The New Yorker called "On the Bay: Building a Better Oyster" by Bill Buford, where he follows the life of an oysterman in Long Island. In it, there were few differing perspectives on how to consume oysters. The oysterman of the story, Mike Osinski, says "you work it with your tongue... but you'd never sink your teeth into it." Sandy Ingber, the chef of the Grand Central Oyster Bar says "'slurp, never chew'... But he admitted that he took a discreet bite when testing a new product". Eric Ripert, the chef of Le Bernardin, when asked if he chews, answered "a couple times. Actually, may I make a confession? I chew once." And an oyster cultivator, when asked answered "yes, I chew. I've always chewed. If you swallow, you can't taste the oyster. If you swallow, all oysters are the same."

I'm in the school of chew. Chew a lot, in fact. Chewing = enjoying to me. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but I don't think people in Japan would simply swallow an oyster. Enjoying the flavors of the meat and innards is the pleasure of eating oysters. I suppose it's like enjoying the innards of crab or lobsters (which most Americans don't, apparently).

So, I'm wondering what most people's standard practice is with oysters? Chew, swallow, other? Just curious.

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  1. Chew for the most part. But it really depends on which region they are from.

    4 Replies
    1. re: ODB

      Beware of an oyster that needs chewing. Unless it's fried, of course.

      1. re: flavrmeistr

        But you can't deny the salty pleasure of poping it with your molars. What ever that thing is.

        This is espeically true with the ones form the Texas Gulf coast.

        By comparision you can drink the salty ones from Japan and the West Coast. And they don't have that thing you can pop.

        1. re: ODB

          I don't necessarily "drink" them. I sort of work 'em around on my tongue, an act I would describe as just short of chewing. Chewing implies the use of teeth, which I don't think actually happens with fresh oysters. There is only one other thing that I...well--never mind.

          1. re: ODB
            1 wiener hound

            Are we speaking of the oyster crab that resides in some to the oysters on the S. Atlantic coast? Oh the sweet taste when we cruch down on that little thing which inhabits some of the oysters. We find them when we have oyster roasts in the wintertime. Much more precious than a cooked pearl. And yes I am a chewer to get all the flavor.

      2. Chew. I grew up in Maryland and chew oysters and clams. I don't suck out crab innards though...In Japan, I think the oyster issue is a personal preference- but I'm not absolutely sure.

        1. I think it's definitely possible to taste by slurping. Putting it directly in your mouth and then swallowing, no. But if you sort of suck on it, sure. I tend to suck and then maybe chew once, twice, tops. Even the most tender oysters are somewhat chewy. It's the nature of a muscle, which is what an oyster is. If I start chewing, I end up chewing a lot, and then it becomes about digesting the damn thing, rather than enjoying the mouthfeel or flavour.

          Link: http://capegooseberry.blogspot.com/20...

          1. I'm having a hard time remembering how I eat them... that's strange... I'm pretty sure I slurp, maybe take one chew and then swallow. If they are small kumamoto or other small west coast oysters, i think I just swallow them.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Evan

              i can't really remember either...

              but i'm more than sure i don't just slurp them down. maybe one or two chews to really release a little flavour but then straight down the hatch.

              i just can't imagine chewing on them a lot because they seem like they'd just turn into absolute mush.

              Link: http://tongueandcheek.ca

            2. Considering oysters are a major part of my diet while they are in season (at least once a week, I live near a fishing village), I feel I am qualified to answer.

              Slurp Raw.
              Chew Fried.

              1. Loved the article - especially now that we spend some time at a place on Peconic Bay. I think I bite and swallow, with minimal chewing. Don't think I just swallow - will have to check next time!

                1. I'm with you, I chew.

                  1. I chew about 1 or 2 times to release flavor and then swallow.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: wild child

                      I'm with you. Those taste buds need a moment or so. If you just suck it down, what's the point? That's what you do with Robitussin.... or tequila.

                    2. Chewing of course, that is where the flavor is, otherwise you are wasting your money just swallowing.

                      1. Hey Eric, I read that piece too. Good one!

                        I'm definitely a chewer. A small, delicate oyster doesn't need to be chewed a lot, to appreciate the texture and flavor; I don't want to reduce it to mush. The larger ones, I chew longer. I don't quite understand how to taste the whole animal without a little chewing.

                        1. I chew, but I've always thought about that question - chew v. swallow.

                          On a related note, is it wrong to use a fork to kind of ease it out of the shell and then slurp it out???

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: WaterIsGood

                            A well opened oyster should be freed from the shell. If it's not, I see nothing wrong with dislodging it.

                          2. Slurp out of shell and revel in the briney liquor. Let it roll around my mouth a little. Bite into once, maybe twice if it's a big miyagi. Swallow. Repeat.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Carb Lover

                              speaking of the oyster liquor, i hate when i see people pour it out on to the bed of ice before they eat the oyster. for me, that's half the flavor of the oyster!!

                              to keep on topic, i squeeze a touch of lemon, slurp (oyster liquor and all!), chew a couple of times, swallow. repeat.

                            2. What in the world would be the point of not chewing an oyster? Might as well not even bother to eat 'em.

                              1. I chew, at least once or twice, and I close my eyes and the rush of flavor transports me. I'm on a beach, hearing the waves, feeling the sun, smelling the salt of the ocean. But if I just swallowed? It would be like that scene in "Maria full of grace" in which the poor Colombian smuggler is forced to swallow condoms filled with drugs. She got paid for that.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Brian S
                                  mike Osinski

                                  all taste resides in the tongue. Chewing or slurping is a function of how many you eat. I like to hold the animal in my mouth for a few seconds, slurp it down, then open the next one.