You might be surprised, but ordering and eating oysters is not intuitive for everyone, especially since oysters tend to look the same. But all it takes is one really nasty oyster experience to put you off these shellfish for life!
Thankfully, Sandy Ingber, who is the head chef of Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant, has just released a cookbook titled "The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant Cookbook" which offers plenty of useful advice on what beginners need to know when it comes to ordering oysters. Below are a couple of excerpts:
Taste and Texture
Oysters have a vast range of flavor profiles depending on where they're from; also known as the "terroir."
"From harbor to harbor, the oyster could taste totally different," Ingber explains. "It has to do with the food, the current, and the nutrients. Since oysters are a water filter and water flows through them all day long, they pick up hints of what's going on around them."
Some of the more common flavors you may taste in an oyster are butter/cream, hints of melon or cucumber, sweet, salty or "briny," and a rusty, copper taste.
Texture-wise, oysters are generally described as plump and springy. How To Order
Experienced oyster lovers probably already have an idea of the types of oysters they prefer.
But for those less experienced, it's okay to ask your waiter for a recommendation. Ingber says beginners should generally start with medium-sized and milder, sweeter oysters that are described as less briny.
On the east coast, bluepoint oysters are an easy-to-eat, beginner-friendly choice. Most west coast oysters are good to try, too.
"You don't want to assault a beginner's taste buds with a lot of brine and turn them off. As they get to enjoy mild oyster, then they can move up to different flavors," he says.
And if you're really in doubt, order a platter. "We have one platter, we call it the Grand Central Oyster Platter. It's four different oysters, and it gives them a sense of variety," Ingber says.
How To Eat Oysters
At this point, you've done your research, ordered your oyster, and it smells and looks wonderful.
Now comes the part that trips up some people — it's time to eat it.
Ingber recommends eating your first oyster "naked" or without any condiments. Take your fork and make sure the oyster meat is separated from its shell, and then slurp up the oyster and all its juice. Chew it a few times (don't swallow right away) so you get the full flavor of the oyster.
Then eat the other oysters however you like — with shallot sauce, lemon, horseradish, cocktail sauce, Tabasco sauce, or mignonette sauce, just to name a few classic condiments.
Ultimately, eating oysters is about enjoyment, so devour yours in the way that makes you the most comfortable. As Ingber says, "People like oysters the way they like them."
When To Send Oysters Back
Oysters should have a fresh, sea-water smell, be full of meat, and come served in its own juices (known as its "liquor").
First, smell your oyster. If it has an "off" smell, don't eat it. Also make sure that your oyster isn't served dry or with only a little bit of meat.
The other big thing to look for in the summer is when an oyster has a fat belly that's leaking and turning the oyster juice cloudy.
"In the summer, oysters are spawning," Ingber explains. "They have a big fat belly that's leaking cream into the oyster's liquor. It's not bad for you (it's just an oyster making babies!), but it doesn't taste particularly good either."
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