How to Buy, Store, and Shuck Oysters Like a Pro
They’re easy to buy online now, so it’s time to get over your fears.
Ever watch an oyster shucker at a restaurant work through a dozen Beausoleils or bluepoints? You probably thought to yourself, “There’s no way I could do that.” Except you can. And should. With a little advice from the experts (and the miracle of overnight shipping), it’s easy to start any night like they do at chic raw bars and cool natural wine spots across the country—with some briny bivalves on the half shell.
How to Source Oysters Like a Chef
Some oysters are like Birkenstocks (stay with us). One day, the only person you know who wears the sandals is your former camp counselor; the next, you can’t walk down a city street without seeing a pair. This year there were two oysters we saw over and over again on menus. Let’s take a look. – Amiel Stanek
From the East Coast
Name: White Stone
Origin: Windmill Point, VA
Tasting Notes: Sweet, meaty, mildly salty with ripe melon and miso notes
What They’re Saying: “White Stones taste like some chef pulled them up, opened them, seasoned them, and then put them back in the ocean.” –Jeremiah Langhorne, chef, The Dabney, Washington, D.C.
Buy ‘Em: $70 for 50 oysters
From the West Coast
Name: Squalli Absch (formerly known as Hendersons)
Origin: Henderson Inlet, WA
Claim to Fame: With wild shellfish stocks in peril, the Nisqually tribe bought this oyster operation to protect the watershed and provide food and jobs for the community.
Tasting Notes: Briny with a vegetal finish
As Seen At: The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle
Buy ‘Em: $51 for 36 oysters
Master the Timeline
No matter how far from a coast you live, you can get oysters shipped straight to your door. Erik Schlagenhauf of California oyster powerhouse Hog Island Oyster Co. shares a few tips.
“Really, you want to get your oysters the next day,” Schlagenhauf says. “Once you have them, generally, they’ll stay alive in a fridge for three to four days.” Pro tip: If you have a good fishmonger, shop local, but if not, sland Creek Oysters has a great selection.
About the Fridge
Place them in a bowl right away and cover with a damp cloth.
Shuck to Order
You could shuck right before guests show up, but where’s the fun in that? “I like shucking them once guests have arrived,” he says. “A lot of times people want to try shucking themselves.” And FYI, here’s how to shuck!
Serve ‘Em in Style
Make like most pros and pick up an aluminum seafood tray or tower, available on Amazon, at restaurant supply stores, or at webrestaurant.com. Or you can take a page from Kimball House’s book and hit an antique shop: The Decatur, GA restaurant boasts vintage pewter-coated trays in the shape of clamshells. Or you can just work with what you’ve got: Bar Normandy serves its half shells in run-of-the-mill bowls filled with ice, while Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, ME uses pie tins or fish poaching trays. As long as your vessel’s got sides of ice, you’re good to go.
You’re Gonna Need Crushed Ice
Crushed ice is as crucial for oysters as it is for a mint julep. To make it, double up a couple of gallon freezer bags, fill them about halfway with ice cubes, and seal. Then take a rolling pin, cast-iron skillet, or meat mallet and start bashing. Crush the ice to the size of cranberries, put it in a serving vessel, and refreeze for about 30 minutes before you place the oysters on top. – Rick Martinez
Now That’s a Knife
Don’t even think about trying to open these bad boys without an oyster knife. The folks at Little Creek Oyster Farm & Market in Greenport, NY swear by the Duxbury from knife maker R. Murphy, which sports a narrow pointed blade that’s good for carefully opening oysters with tapered hinge sides.
Mignonette Math: A Primer
A classic mignonette–made with red wine vinegar, black pepper, and shallots–is good and all, but restaurant riffs with Asian pear and kombu are inspiring us to switch it up. A few guidelines:
¼ cup of acid
Red wine vinegar
Apple cider vinegar
¼ cup finely chopped allium or fruit
½ tsp. black pepper
The X factor
Pinch of sugar
Finely grated ginger
A little toasted sesame oil