You’re likely lamenting the loss of warm days now that it’s mid January, but winter is actually a time to rejoice—it’s oyster season! Oysters spawn in the warmth of summer, which detracts from their flavor. It’s when the cold ocean flows through these bivalves that we find the plump, firm, briny oysters that are delicious to eat. Plus, it is thought that the natural refrigeration of winter helps keep oysters fresh and safe.
Oysters may seem daunting to prepare, but they’re actually pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it. Plus, if you want to stick to your #GetReal resolutions this year, it doesn’t get much more real than grabbing a knife and a towel and opening an oyster right before popping it in your mouth. And they’re full of vitamins and minerals!
HOW TO CHOOSE
First things first—up until the moment you cook your oyster or eat it raw, it should be alive. How can you tell? If the oyster is closed or snaps shut when you give it a tap, it’s alive. You can also give it a sniff. If it smells fresh and briny like the sea then you’re good to go, but if it’s fishy, pick a different one.
HOW TO STORE/PREP
Oysters should be stored on ice, cup-side down to ensure that the liquid inside (called liquor) stays intact. Cover them with a damp cloth, but don’t cut off their air supply or the oysters will suffocate. When you’re ready to shuck, give the oysters a good scrub to remove any mud or dirt.
HOW TO SHUCK
1. Clear a space on the cutting board, and grab a towel and oyster knife. Lay the oyster with the cup side down, and hold it with your towel so that the hinge of the oyster faces your dominant hand. Slide the tip of your knife into the hinge of the oyster and find the place where you have some traction between the two shells. Eventually you’ll find the sweet spot, and when you rotate your knife, the lid will pop open. (Have some patience, as this takes practice.) Further insert and rotate your knife to separate the shells.
2. Clean off your knife, then sever the top adductor muscle by running your knife flat along the underside of the top shell. Discard the top shell, and make sure the oyster is moist and smells fresh.
3. Run your knife flat between the oyster and the bottom shell to sever the bottom adductor muscle as well, and give the oyster a little poke to make sure it is fully detached, all the while preserving the natural liquor in the shell.
Many people love to eat oysters raw to enjoy their fresh brininess. But oysters are delicious cooked as well! They can be smoked, grilled, or fried, just to name a few techniques.
But wait! What about the pearls? The oysters we eat are actually in a different family than pearl oysters, so if you’re in the market for a new necklace, better leave that to the jeweler.
EAT & DRINK
BUTTER-FRIED OYSTERS by David Tanis
1 pound unsalted butter
1 large, day-old French loaf or other hearth-style white loaf
1 cup all-purpose flour
24 shucked oysters, drained
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Red-pepper mayonnaise, optional
Lemon wedges, optional
Watercress or arugula, optional
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, then raise the heat a little and cook at a low simmer for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then pour through a fine-meshed strainer. (Save any milky juices, solids or foam left behind to add to rice or vegetables.) The clarified butter can be kept in a covered jar in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Remove the crusts from the French loaf. Tear the bread into chunks and pulse in a food processor or blender to make about 4 cups of crumbs. The crumbs will keep in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for several days, or for longer in the freezer, tightly wrapped.
Season the flour generously with salt and pepper. Dip the oysters in the flour and then in the beaten eggs. Spread a layer of bread crumbs on a baking sheet. Place the oysters on the sheet and sprinkle with more crumbs. Roll the oysters in the crumbs so that they are well coated, adding more if necessary.
Heat a wide cast-iron skillet over a medium-high flame. Add clarified butter to a depth of 1/2 inch. Toss in a bread crumb—if it browns quickly the butter is hot enough. Carefully slip in breaded oysters in a single layer, frying in batches if needed to avoid crowding. Adjust the heat to keep the oysters gently bubbling in the butter. It should take about 2 minutes to get a golden, crisp coating. Turn the oysters and brown the other side, then drain on kitchen towels. Serve hot with red-pepper mayonnaise, lemon wedges and arugula or watercress, if you like.
OYSTERS WITH RED MIGNONETTE by Sippity Sup for Food52
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons of the very best extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon finely crushed white pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1 pinch excellent sea salt
24 oysters, freshly shucked on the half shell
In a small bowl, combine vinegar, olive oil, shallots, white and red pepper and salt and whisk to blend. Spoon atop oysters or serve alongside.
Please remember to wait to shuck the oysters until just before serving to keep them as fresh as the sea as possible.