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Chew or Swallow Oysters

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My first oyster experience was very intimidating... a co-worker ordered some for the table so I felt obligated to try one. So down it goes with some lemon juice, cocktail sauce and no chewing and I'm thinking... why the heck did I just do that. I tasted the lemon and the cocktail sauce and it was good but the meat of the bite wasn't tasted and just swallowed. Maybe I could've swished it around or something but I wasn't sure what to do with it.

Moving forward, I went to another oyster joint with the significant other and she ordered some. Following her lead I had a few (still hesitant) but I chewed them and then I really started to appreciate them for their crisp clean ocean-y flavor. Now I chew them and I love them, small and raw is preferred but small ones at Christmas time fried up are another favorite (family tradition).

So reading some old post I see some people are adamant that you swallow them whole without chewing. I'll probably continue to chew them but if it is a faux pas, perhaps I'd consider being more "polite" in certain situations.

Maybe there are two schools of thought on this and there isn't much reason to argue what is right but I'm curious what the general consensus is...

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  1. This is probably the old post referenced.
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/301883

    1 Reply
    1. re: E Eto

      I didn't get to that one actually... thanks for the link

    2. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING that an individual does to optimize their enjoyment of a particular food (within the bounds of civility) should be considered a faux-pas. So don't even ask - just enjoy them the way you want. If your dining partners seem put off by this, then stop. I don't mean stop eating oysters your way. Stop eating with them.

      2 Replies
      1. re: HSBSteveM

        Agreed, by all means slurp, chew, cook, and add whatever sauces you like (thouigh I prefer raw oysters without any flavour enhancers).

        1. re: HSBSteveM

          Very well put. And how are you supposed to taste anything if you're not gonna chew?

        2. A friend asked a very classy looking elderly lady from New Orleans whether oysters should be chewed and her reply was, "Young man, cultured people always chew their food."

          1 Reply
          1. re: ddavis

            I just returned from a charity event that was a oyster tasting and wine pairing sampler. It was limited to 70 people (although, I would swear there were more). After reading this post earlier in the day, I decided to eat and observe. I LOVE oysters and would never considring swallowing whole (what's the point?). From what I could see, most people do chew. I didn't actually see anyone just swallowing, but then again, I was pretty busy eating. I would say, do whatever you like and enjoy!!! I don't think there are any rules in oyster eating.

          2. The beauty of enjoying oyster includes both the flavor and the texture. Swallowing without the pit stop of chewing sorta defeats the purpose of the wonderful morsel. you will miss how some are more briney than others, how the texture of some are like melting brie while others are more dense, or the wonderful smell of the brine that accompanies the oysters if shucked properly. As yu can see jfood highly recommends the chew versus the swallow. But if you enjoy the swallow versus chew that's your choice, but give the chew a try once you feel comfortable. Good oysters make for a great meal all by themselves.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jfood

              I agree entirely.

            2. "As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
              Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

              1. Try rolling it around in your mouth a bit first before chewing. It's insanely delicious.

                1. MFK Fisher:

                  ""There are three kinds of oyster-eaters: those loose-minded sports who will eat anything, hot, cold, thin, thick, dead or alive, as long as it is oyster; those who will eat them raw and only raw; and those who with equal severity will eat them cooked and no way other. . . . The first group may perhaps have the most fun, although there is a white fire about the others' bigotry that can never warm the broad-minded."

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: KevinB

                    I chew cooked ones and don't chew raw ones.

                    1. re: BlueHerons

                      Me, too. It never occurred to me that people chewed them. Huh.

                      1. re: curiousbaker

                        Why swallow something that delicious whole? How can you even taste it?

                        1. re: C. Hamster

                          My taste buds are on my tonge not my teeth.

                          1. re: BlueHerons

                            Why chew anything then?

                            Chewing enables digestion but also enables tasting. Imagine swallowing pieces of steak whole. You'd briefly taste the exterior of the meat but it wouldn't "taste" anything like it would if youhad chewed it.

                            Chew an oyster sometime and see.

                            1. re: C. Hamster

                              Hamster, living near a fishing village on the Coast of South Carolina, I've been eating oysters as long as I can remember eating anything. They are part of my culture and my history.

                              I think I know how to eat a raw oyster and what they taste like.

                              It has been tradition in my family for a hundred years to have oysters the night before Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, New Years day, and most Saturday football games in season.

                              South Carolina oysters are small and salty and very good.

                              I will not eat Gulf Oysters. You'd choke on them if you didn't chew.

                              I chew fried and roasted oysters.

                            2. re: BlueHerons

                              The inside of an oyster tastes different from the outside. You should try it.

                              1. re: E Eto

                                I intended to be a "lurker" on this thread, but - yeah -
                                - Why swallow an oyster (or anything) whole? I didn't even know there were people out there who did that!

                                1. re: aurora50

                                  I do both and I definitely think there is merit to both! Depends on the oyster, for me, although I am new to the game. I love both the taste and texture of a small, delicious oyster AND the sensation of swallowing a yummy, briny oyster.

                                  I know some avoid them in the summer months, but I find that its uber refreshing (swallowing them) when its hot out.

                                  They taste good to me either way. But I admit, its way more natural for me not to chew. I don't think I lose anything.

                            3. re: C. Hamster

                              I don't know - you sort of swirl it and suck on it and taste the briny sweetness, then down it slides. I had never been told to eat it that way, that's just what came naturally. But I'll try chewing the next time.

                              1. re: curiousbaker

                                Yep, that's exactly how I eat raw oysters.

                                I chew cooked oysters not raw ones.

                                1. re: BlueHerons

                                  Have you ever tried chewing them, and did not like the result? Or is it something you simply won't do out of habit? I'm just curious as someone who is a very recent oyster convert. I've tried them many times before in my life, and think I also swallowed them, but never liked em.

                                  Just recently I've had some that I liked, and now I am rather addicted.... just what I needed: another expensive craving. But I do chew.

                          2. re: BlueHerons

                            How can one swallow a whole oyster? Well, perhaps a tiny one. But doesn't that negate 'eating/tasting' and risk choking???

                            1. re: BlueHerons

                              Interesting question. I agree, BlueHerons.

                              I've not chewed raw oysters up to now. I might try it.

                              Then again, I don't chew ice cream, and while ice cream comes before all the foods on the planet, and maybe beyond, I get almost as much enjoyment from not chewing oysters (raw) as I do from ice cream.

                          3. Chew 'em, don't swallow even when in a vodka or tequilla shooter. Didn't your mother teach you to chew your food? Oysters and champagne(with a little caviar thrown in.) are the true ambrosia of the God's!

                            1. I had a friend who used to make a lot of money at keg parties by snorting them- he would bet everybody at the party $5-$10 that he would do it. I saw him come away with $500 one night- a lot of money in the 70's!

                              Me, I prefer them on a saltine cracker with horseradish that has a little cocktail sauce and a lot of hot sauce added to it...

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Clarkafella

                                I love the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, NYC. It was a tradition when returning to the folks for the holidays for my dad, childhood best friend and I to head into the city w/ only 1 goal in mind. The bar at theOyster Bar. A great milieu, selection of world oysters, fine oyster stew and cold clear white wines. I used to be of the smother school, now just a squeeze of lemon and taste the difference in the varieties.
                                FYI, Damarriscotta, Maine has an oyster festival every summer.

                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                  I also went to the Oyster Bar with my Dad.

                                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                                    And Wellfleet on Cape Cod has an annual oyster festival in October.

                                2. Glad to hear you stopped swallowing and started chewing! Swallowing a good oyster is the equivliant of chugging a bottle of Crystal. Great oysters can take you to the ocean when you are in a desert.

                                  1. A couple of years ago, Bill Buford wrote an article for The New Yorker on the oystermen of Long Island. He asked all those he interviewed, including Eric Ripert, whether or not they chewed. I just finished reading this article in “Secret Ingredients,” the collection of food-related articles from The New Yorker, but there’s an abstract of it online that includes a couple of pertinent quotes.

                                    http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006...

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: JoanN

                                      I just started that book, but now remember reading that article when it came out. Thanks.

                                      "In an oyster, as with wine, you should be able to taste the place it came from...."

                                      So very true. This is why you chew an oyster and why you don't slather it with cocktail sauce.

                                      1. re: JoanN

                                        I LOVE OYSTERS ON PIZZA - CHEESE - BREAD - AND ON BUTTER

                                      2. I Love Oysters! Been eating them since forever.
                                        Chewing is the only way to taste the ocean from where these beauties cometh.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Gio

                                          i don't understand it either. IF you are swallowing them whole they are are not in your mouth long enough iwatched many people of the last 50 yrs and they just swallow no swishing around the mouth for the flavor just swallowing

                                        2. From observation, the vast majority of people who like oysters chew, at least once or twice, to release all the nuances of the oyster before they swallow. I like mine with just a drop of lemon - sauces mask the flavour, IMHO. I've seen people who don't really like oysters swallow them without chewing just to get them down before the texture brings out the gag reflex.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: hsk

                                            good point HSK people that don't really like them just swallow so it comes down to if you just swallow why bother

                                            1. re: foodperv

                                              the other thing is its just like what i cough up when i am sick eeeeuu yuk
                                              i have tried it and i gag

                                          2. I chew. It's part of the enjoyment of them.

                                            When I was a kid, someone asked my old uncle if oysters should be chewed or swallowed without chewing. He said, " of course you gotta chew 'em How else you gonna kill 'em?"