5@5 - An oyster primer for National Oyster Day
5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.
The world is your oyster -- especially seeing that August 5 is National Oyster Day.
In preparation for the molluscan merrymaking, we've recruited Executive Chef Eric Woods of Blue Water Grill to drop the bivalve 411.
Cracking the Code (and Shells) on Oysters: Eric Woods
1. The East Coast, West Coast rivalry
"Leave your gang signs at the door. While all oysters may not be created equal, both East and West Coast oysters have their advantages and you can absolutely eat both in the same meal.
East Coast oysters tend to be flatter and have a thinner meat, which can be forgiving for a beginner especially. West Coast oysters tend to have a deeper cup with a jagged edge because of the rougher West Coast waters -- they also have a bigger bite with a creamier taste.
Feeling overwhelmed with that oyster list? Some good ones to look for that are on many menus include: Malpac or Blue Island (East Coast) and Kumamoto, Fanny Bay or Hama Hama (West Coast)."
2. OK, they’re here...now what?
"Oftentimes, guests will question how to 'properly' eat the oysters. I definitely have my personal favorite way to eat them, although you can try any way that works for you.
Bottom line is this: You don’t want to totally mask the taste of the oyster. The condiments are there to complement the flavor. You definitely want to taste the liquor of the oyster, which is the liquid inside the shell.
When the oysters arrive, they will typically be accompanied by four condiments: horseradish, cocktail sauce, fresh lemon, and a mignonette. If you order multiple types of oysters, the server should always identify which is which. They will typically start with East Coast and then move on to West Coast. I would recommend eating them that way too, especially if you are a beginner.
Pick the shell up, add a squeeze of lemon juice or the mignonette (I like to take the shallots out of the mignonette and add those alone as they have been pickled by the vinegars and butcher’s cracked pepper), then add some horseradish to the cocktail sauce for an extra kick before putting it on top -- or just add the horseradish alone. You can always alternate which you add to each oyster.
All done? Return the shell, turned upside down, to the ice tray it was served on."
3. Is there an oyster season?
"Some say there are certain months you shouldn’t eat oysters, but as harvesting has become more sophisticated, this notion has really become less and less the case. One reason why some might suggest sticking to fall, winter and spring for oyster indulgence is because oysters spawn in the warm summer months, usually May through August -- although natural Gulf water oysters can spawn year-round due to the warm waters.
Spawning oysters should not be served. How can you tell? They will have a heavy white substance in the shell and will have a foul creamy taste. This does not mean you cannot find great, fresh oysters in the summer months. Trust me, I use them every day!
Not up for raw oysters this time around? You can always try oyster po' boys, baked oysters, oysters Rockefeller, oysters casino, or even an oyster taco (a fried oyster put back in its shell with spicy guacamole, shredded lettuce and pico de gallo) -- yum!"
4. How do I know they’re fresh?
"By law, we of course follow certain regulations when it comes to seafood, which includes ensuring the tags (which includes the harvest date) follows the seafood no matter where in the restaurant it goes. If half the oysters are in the kitchen and the other half are up at the raw bar counter, the tag has been photocopied and one tag remains with each set.
There should also a strict receiving process and procedure done on site for all seafood to ensure that the guest is receiving the freshest, best-quality items. This process includes taking the temperature of everything as it arrives and logging it immediately."
5. Aw, shucks! Don’t (OK, maybe) try this at home.
"If you are going to take on the adventure of oysters at home, be prepared -- it can be quite a process for those not familiar with it. When at a reputable vendor, look for fresh oysters that are wet, packed on ice, tightly closed, and have no damage or chips. You can even ask to see the tags, which tell you the harvest date.
Take them home, packed on ice of course, and scrub them under ice cold water until clean with a food-safe brush. Do not let them sit in water. Now, it’s time to shuck.
This can be a bit tricky for a beginner, so you may first want to have a demo from a professional. Either way, just be sure to approach this slowly and safely.
Fold a damp kitchen towel in half (the long way) for a long rectangle shape and fold that over the oyster, clenching the back-rounded portion of the oyster in the inside of the towel. Ensure the palm of your hand is completely protected by the towel and that the oyster is being held tightly inside, applying pressure with your thumb on top and fingers on the bottom to the flat part of the shell.
Place the oyster knife (and yes, you MUST use an oyster knife for this!) about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch in the front of the oyster and twist the knife to open the shell, being careful not to stab all the way through the oyster. Then, run the knife along the top shell to cut the muscle, being careful not to cut the meat.
Under the meat, you have to cut the other half of the muscle, running knife along bottom of shell under meat, about 1/4-inch through the back. If you got this far, congratulations!
Now, serve your oyster on crushed ice with the classic and condiments and enjoy."
Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.
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