How to Buy Oysters

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There are virtually as many types of oysters as there are types of fish in the ocean. With the popularity of this bivalve skyrocketing, the different kinds of oysters now available to the consumer are becoming exciting...and confusing. How to buy them and what to look for, are also a bit daunting, especially for the uninitiated.

  • Buy the right oyster for the beginner's palate. Oysters can be as big as coffee saucers, or as small as fingernails, and their flavors vary just as wildly. A good rule of thumb that works nine times out of 10 with oysters is, the bigger the oyster, the more intense and saline the flavor. This can be a great thing to some, and a disappointment to others. Know who you are buying the oysters for, and what their tastes are. Are they experienced oyster eaters or beginners? A great oyster for starters is the Kumamoto oyster. Originally from Japan, these oysters are now harvested on the West Coast in Washington. They are small, delicate and creamy. An excellent jumping-off point for your oyster adventure.

  • Move east for the advanced palate. Generally speaking, East Coast oysters tend to be both larger and more intense in their briny flavors. The oysters harvested in both Maine and Long Island, New York, are large and consistent in their flavors. From Maine, the Malpeque is easy to find in most markets. It has a good balance of creamy texture and salty flavor. These are great with a dry sherry. From New York's Long Island Sound, Blue Point oysters are a go-to with many oyster lovers. Even more intense than the Malpeque, these taste like sea spray and have an almost citrusy finish.

  • Find the right oysters for cooking. If you want to cook with oysters, a great oyster to use that is vastly underrated is the Gulf oyster from Louisiana. These oysters are not the best when eaten raw, but their heavy, milky quality make them fantastic oysters to use for stuffing, or breading and frying for a po' boy sandwich. You can buy Gulf oysters canned or jarred, already shelled. Using expensive oysters for a po' boy is a waste of money, and the consistency you will get from the Gulf type will be far superior to either East or West coast varietals.

  • Buy safe oysters. Be sure to check and double-check your oysters when you buy them fresh. Know your fish monger or fish counter person at your local market. If you have a relationship with them, they will make sure you have the best product. Also, double-check your oysters for cracked shells. A cracked shell means an inedible oyster and a lot of wasted money. If you bring home oysters that are open, tap them on the shell and wait for them to close. If your oyster will not close after tapping on the shell, you cannot eat it because it is dead.

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