On the half shell, sauteed in butter, steamed, baked or grilled, oysters are a seafood delicacy that fish lovers eat in a variety of ways. The plump, creamy-white meat of the oyster lies within a protective shell that closes tightly when the mollusk feels threatened. A tightly-closed shell also is a sign the oyster is alive and well, which is exactly how you want it when cooking time rolls around.
If you buy live oysters, cook live oysters. An oyster should never be cooked if it dies during storage. Spoilage happens very quickly once the oyster dies, resulting in unsavory flavor and odor. Spoiled oysters also carry bacteria that cause seafood-borne illnesses. Sniff the oysters before you purchase them. Healthy, live oysters smell like the open ocean. If the odor is extremely unpleasant or odd in any way, don’t make the purchase.
The opening and closing of the shell is a natural process for oysters. You do, however, need to be vigilant when you see an open shell because it may signal an oyster has expired. Give the open shell a tap with your fingers. A live, healthy oyster closes its shell tightly after the tap. If the shell remains open, assume the oyster is not alive and discard it.
Storing live oysters in the refrigerator preserves their lives until cooking time. Place the live oysters in a container covered with a damp cloth. Do not add water to the container or secure it with a lid. Oysters can survive for up to five days in the refrigerator and do not require saltwater or freshwater in the container to do so. Ideal refrigerator temperatures for storing live oysters is between 32 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fresh shucked oysters are available to consumers. These oysters should be refrigerated immediately after purchase and cooked as soon as possible. If you are unable to cook the oysters right away, store them in an airtight container. Inside the container they last up to seven days under refrigeration. Shucked oysters are not good candidates for freezing because the freezing process tends have a negative affect on taste and texture.
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