By Betha Merit
Let’s talk about how to select fresh oysters. From buying to storing to shucking to recipes. You might be oyster savvy, so feel free to simply enjoy the recipes in this column. But many of us choose our oysters from a restaurant menu, and lack experience on how to select and process the sweet smelling, briny little bivalve mollusks.
When purchasing fresh oysters from a fish market or the regular grocer, freshness is everything. Every oyster should be shut. If it is not, then tap it, and it should shut definitively. If it doesn’t, don’t buy it. Oysters lose moisture when removed from the sea. They should feel full and heavy in your hand, which suggests that they are fresh harvested. If you bang two oysters together, they should sound solid. Throw out any that sound hollow.
Remember, oysters are alive and need to breathe. So never place live oysters in water or seal in a plastic bag if you want them to stay alive. One storage option for using a cooler is to sandwich layers of live oysters between two beds of ice. They will last for two days. If you are not using them immediately, you may store oysters in the refrigerator at 40 degrees F, preferably in an open container covered by a damp towel or damp newspaper layers. This method will keep them for five to seven days. Either way, place them deep side down to retain their juices.
Cleaning and Shucking
Tools needed for this step include a stiff bristle brush, a sturdy knife, a heavy glove, and a clean towel. We can’t describe this process thoroughly due to space, so we recommend you do an internet search for how-to sites that includes pictures or videos of oyster shucking, or set up a training time with someone experienced in shucking.
If you went through the above process, you have the perfect fresh oysters, each still in its own juices (called liquor) on the half shell. Immediately place them on a bed of crushed ice for serving. Recommended condiments include lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, chili sauce, horseradish, and hot sauce.
You can either use a little fork to pick the oyster out, or you can slurp them out of their shell into your mouth. By slurping you get to drink the liquor. Cradle the shell in your hand, grasping it with your thumb and first two fingers. And Slurp!
It is notable that for many recipes you can buy shucked oysters in pint or quart containers in liquid. These last a bit longer, but do check the shelf life. And, it is a lot easier than buying fresh and shucking yourself. True oyster “fast food” is a smoked oyster from a tin served on a thin slice of cheddar on a cracker. Also delicious!
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup finely chopped sweet onion
- 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 quart shucked oysters, do NOT drain
- 1/4 cup flour, dissolved in 1/4 cup very hot water
- 1 quart half-and-half, can use fat-free
- 1 teaspoon salt, to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon tarragon
- 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika or cayenne pepper
In a soup pot, melt butter. Add the finely chopped onions and celery and minced garlic. Cook for about five minutes until veggies are tender. Add the oysters and their liquid to the pot. Bring to a boil and boil for 4-5 minutes, until oysters curl; reduce heat to a simmer. Whisk together 1/4 flour in 1/4 water until very smooth; add this to soup pot, stirring constantly. Add all remaining ingredients to the soup pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 10-12 more minutes or until heated through and thickened. Serves 6.
SOUTHERN FRIED OYSTERS
- 12 oysters, freshly shucked
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons Hot Sauce
- 1 cup panko, (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- 2 cups peanut oil, or canola oil
- kosher salt
In a small bowl, place the flour. In a second small bowl, whisk the egg and 3 tablespoons of the hot sauce. In a third small bowl, place the panko. Dredge the oysters in the flour shaking off any excess. Dip the flour dredged oysters in the egg mixture. Shake off any excess and roll oysters in the panko being sure to completely coat. Place on a baking sheet and place in the refrigerator while oil comes to temperature.
In a heavy skillet, heat oil to 325°. Add the breaded oysters and fry until golden brown about 1-2 minutes. Drain on paper towels and immediately sprinkle with kosher salt. Serve warm chipotle lime dipping sauce.
Chipotle Lime Dipping Sauce
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise, best quality
- 2 tablespoons lime juice, from one lime
- 2-3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (canned), roughly chopped, plus 1-2 teaspoons sauce (more or less, depending on taste for spicy)
- 1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped
Combine the mayonnaise, lime juice, chipotle chiles with sauce and garlic in a blender or mini food processor and blend until smooth.