HOME > Chowhound > Greater Boston Area >



We've had oysters at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston and at Russell House Tavern in Cambridge that were extraordinary.

Our retail efforts, at Whole Foods, New Deal Seafood in Cambridge and Fresh Pond Seafood in Arlington have been less successful. None of these holds a candle to the extraordinary oysters we've had recently in restaurants. What is the secret to getting perfect oysters retail in the Boston area? Is it finding an excellent retailer? Or knowing when to buy them?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Live shellfish takes more care than most people give it.

    New Deal would supply well maintained oysters. I wouldn't buy them from Whole Foods and I don't shop Fresh Pond so I couldn't say if I would buy them there.

    And, there are great differences between oysters. Were all the oysters you compared the same ones, for example were they all Island Creek Oysters or Wellfleets?

    I would try again from New Deal and ask them to tell you specifically how to store and maintain the oysters until you are ready to eat them. I worked my way through college working with seafood and there is a big learning curve, even for an experience cook, when it comes to taking care of the various products.

    But, even with my background I learn things from the staff at New Deal so I ask their opinion all the time on what's best in the case to ideas for cooking what I choose.


    4 Replies
    1. re: BostonZest

      Penny, any tips for storing oysters at home? I generally keep them close together in a bowl in the fridge and eat them that night. I would imagine on ice would be ideal but I don't have a draining for ice-melt.

      We hit ICOB often but as a oyster lover I have no qualms with home shucking, but am curious what I could do to improve the storage environment and how long I could store them.

      Also, why would you not buy them from WF? Is this about turn over or the way that they store them? What should I look for in how a fish market stores/cares for their oysters?


      1. re: Klunco

        While Whole Foods may have turnover and some skilled fishmongers, I'm very careful about what I buy and which store I shop for seafood. I do buy an occasional item at the River Street store where the quality has seemed better than at my nearby Westland Avenue store.

        Island Creek has a care of oyster page on their site.


        They stress avoiding letting the oysters sit in freshwater and suggest storing them with a damp cloth over them.

        I always bring a cooler when I'm buying seafood and it's the first thing I store carefully when I get home.

        I was trained to set oysters in the seafood case of well-drained, chipped ice with the cup side down and to be sure they were never standing in water. So I still arrange oysters cup side down in a sieve or colander of ice with a bowl under it to drain the water. The damp cloth over the bowl should still let them get some air.

        You should also check to be sure the temperature in the area of your refrigerator will not freeze them since that will also kill them.

        I know there are a couple of people on this board who are far more informed about seafood than I am and I hope they will add their expertise to what I've said. And, I hope they will correct any of my information that might be out of date if newer methods have proved better.

        1. re: BostonZest

          I shop at WF in Dedham and don't understand the slam. They had a selection today, and I may drop by tomorrow to pick up a few for New Years. They looked lovely and nicely iced. And the Dedham staff seems well trained and knowledgable. All Whole Foods are not created equal. We are also blessed with a very well educated cheese staff.

          1. re: Bellachefa

            Just got back from WF and they had a dozen different oysters offered for the holidays.

    2. Can you explain how the oysters you got were so inferior? In my experience fresh oysters are not that hard to come by and New Deal and Fresh Pond certainly deliver. If they are fresh, cold, not sitting in a puddle of fresh water and eaten in a day or two there's nothing really tricky about it.

      2 Replies
      1. re: StriperGuy

        Hard to explain. They just weren't as bright and fresh-tasting. They were duller. The retail oysters aren't bad, but they're just not as excellent as the oysters we've had in restaurants around town.

        1. re: Indirect Heat

          At the risk of being overly obvious, make sure you take care to retain as much of the liquor as possible. In my experience that's where some home shuckers often end up with an inferior oyster to eat. For me, the liquor holds a good amount of the flavor and punch of a great oyster. There's no reason you shouldn't be able to get a result every bit as good ( or better) at home as in a restaurant.

      2. I have had/bought great fresh oysters at WF in Andover...many varieties. They always pack them in a nylon net and in ice...I always schuck and eat them the same day. YUM!

        1. I usually buy mine at James Hook Lobsters on the waterfront. They have Island Creeks.

          I've never bought them from New Deal but I've bought enough other things from him over the years that I have to say I'm surprised that anything he'd have would be less than pristine.

          If I'm storing them, I put them in a plastic bag and bury in ice. I don't let them come in direct contact with the ice or water,..pretty much do the same with any fish. It really helps to maintain freshness.

          Probably not exactly what you had in mind but I bought some very large oysters at Happy Family Seafood in Chinatown recently. They told me they were from WA state. Big and meaty..a little soy, wasabi and a squeeze of lemon..2-3 bites per..:)

          2 Replies
          1. re: 9lives

            After reading Galka's post, I need to edit mine. I don't want anyone to ruin their oysters..:)

            When I said "store," I meant for a few hours, not days. It's also important that oysters get air.

            I don't have the opportunity to do my own oystering and have to buy them..or be given them by friends. They are generally consumed within a few hours of purchase. Very rarely left overnight; if ever.

            1. re: 9lives

              Yeah, I've never eaten retail oysters more than a few hours post-purchase. I don't trust myself to store them more than a few hours. I've only made efforts to keep them cold (ice, and fridge). Not which side up, or anything like that.

          2. We have a place in Wellfleet and do a lot of oystering there. When we bring oysters back, we always put them in a bowl, cup side down and cover with a wet cloth that we keep wetting every day, so it stays moist. No water, no ice, but we keep the bowl in the fridge. If we need to keep them more than a week, we refresh them in salty water. They keep really well that way and we never had any problems. Only put them on ice before we serve them. WF oystermen told us never to use plastic bags and never keep them directly in ice when storing at home.

            1. I get oysters from Jordan Brothers Seafood (usually Wellfleets) when they are at local farmers markets, and they have consistently been the best oysters (extremely fresh, tight and briny). They do some of the winter markets too.

              New Deal generally has good oysters, but I have definitely had some recent misses from there. In the past they have inspected and cleaned each oyster well. I had one occasion recently where I could smell an oyster had turned before I even shucked it at home. Another batch had rotten & crumbly shells. Their Pemaquids are always pristine, but I do keep a closer eye on what they are selecting for me now. There are more employees, and some give better service than others. Our latest batch for Christmas, a mix of Duxbury and Nova Scotia oysters, were all excellent.

              1 Reply
              1. re: black_lab

                Thanks for the detailed comment, useful info.

              2. I was at the WF on Cambridge St by Mass General and they had a good assortment of oyster. I recall Wellfleet, Mattapoisett and a few others.

                I bought 12 Mattapoisetts. Opened and ate, most of them. The good ones were great..briny, flavorful, lots of liquor. Unfortunately, 1/4 had an off smell. They looked fine but when I started to eat them, I could detect an off odor. Not acceptable to me.

                This was my first WF oyster purchase. Didn't really plan on buying oysters but I thought the topic need more research..:)

                Unless you're buying from a small market who is buying direct locally, oysterbuying can be a bit of a crapshoot.. 1 of 12 bad, I could accept but 3 of 12, eh. I just think that in general, large markets like WF really aren't the best option. My batting avg at Hooks is much better.

                The good ones were really good.

                7 Replies
                1. re: 9lives

                  given that you can get oysters at 1.00 a piece at restaurants; i have gone in that direction to fufill my craving. If i had to eat them at home, i would buy them from New Deal.

                  1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                    I thought the exact same thing.

                    $1 oysters at Happy hours are less than I paid at WF..and someone else opens them and cleans up.

                    The reality is that is was shopping at WF buying other things and bought the oysters and ate them an hour later while wearing my sweatpants; which I don't do in restaurants. Impulse buy.

                    It wasn't a decision about whether to eat out or in.

                    New Deal is not all that convenient for me. Hook's is. I like New deal but wouldn't go just to buy oysters. Some negative comments re oysters lately at New Deal.

                    1. re: 9lives

                      Nice visual, 9lives. sleeveless T, I assume? I also sometimes impulse buy oysters at WF, pick up some horseradish, chili sauce, and run home, shuck 'em and eat 'em. I've had mostly good luck, with the occaisional dry oyster or slightly old. Yesterday I didn't buy any, but they had Welfleet, Coccituate, and Raspberry Points (maybe more). They looked pretty good.

                      1. re: justbeingpolite

                        Not sleeveless.

                        A well worn and slightly snug Chowhound t shirt..:)

                      2. re: 9lives

                        i remain happy with New Deal but have not been buying oysters there. Karl is still in charge.

                        1. re: 9lives

                          i have never had a problem with New Deal, and i shop there frequently.

                    2. You must read Shucked by Erin B. Murray about Island Creek Oyster farm

                      3 Replies
                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                          oystermaniac tip go to boston.eater.com for ultimate-guide to every dollar oyster in Boston area

                        2. re: Oysternaniac

                          Read it a few months ago and really enjoy it. Have recommended it since.

                        3. CambDoc, Thanks for the update.