These Mail-Order Oysters Make Home-Dining Feel Special

Real Oyster Cult is an online shop that ships high-quality oysters, while offering a lifeline to small farmers.

Platter of Raw Oysters with Lemon and a Glass of White Wine
Photo: Getty Images

When I was growing up in Trinidad, oysters were a rare delight, sold next to the coconut water and snow cones around the Savannah. The oyster man emerged in the late afternoons with his bucket, selling them as “shooters." I only tried oysters a few times, as my dad didn’t particularly relish his teenage daughter knocking back that pungent blend of spicy cocktail sauce and cheap clear alcohol. When I grew up, that’s all I knew of oysters—that they were to be served in a shot glass and downed as a symbol of bravado, virility, or aphrodisiac assurances to come.

When I migrated to America, I discovered a new way to enjoy oysters from my father-in-law, a real aficionado. He had a detailed preparation ritual that was passed down from his father. Seafood was his love language, and the most memorable family gatherings were usually celebrated at restaurants with towering platters of shellfish, and always oysters. He would take his sweet time adorning them with fresh-squeezed lemon, cocktail sauce, and horseradish. Only when all the oysters were festooned could they be consumed. I found the process utterly fascinating, and I always felt honored to join in his oyster ceremony. For me, oysters evoke family celebrations, and for my husband, they bring wonderful memories of his dad back to life.

Pre-pandemic, we never considered buying oysters for home consumption. Why would we? In the Before Times, we only ever ate oysters at restaurants. They’re a splurge you order for a celebration, we thought—something fancy to enjoy with sparkling wine at a family gathering or date night. Besides, if someone had actually handed me a closed, raw oyster, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. I resigned myself to an oyster-less quarantine, until I discovered Real Oyster Cult. Now I feel like an evangelist.

Real Oyster Cult is a dream realized by Sims McCormick and Rob Knecht, who moved to Duxbury, Massachusetts, 15 years ago to embark on an unusual new venture. Now, the married couple has four kids, two dogs, and a groundbreaking company: they sell seasonal, fresh oysters from farms all over North America, delivered overnight directly to customers through their app and website.

The original intent of their business was to spread oyster appreciation, introducing customers to subtle differences among varieties so that more people could recognize oysters' magnificent diversity. During the pandemic, Real Oyster Cult has been well-positioned to help farmers who sell primarily to restaurants or hotels—businesses that are hurting.

Their menu changes seasonally but typically features six to ten oysters at a time, including a PEI, a Duxbury, and a Cape Cod. They offer themed bushels based on season—right now, it’s the “salty, sweet, hedonistic” Ibiza bundle and American Shuck’n Love, three selections of American oysters, with a portion of sales goes towards buying PPE for frontline workers. They partner with other seafood farmers to offer combination kits, like the Firecracker Box, which retails for $176 and includes 40 oysters, two pounds of Jonah cocktail crab, and two Luke’s Lobster kits (enough for four lobster rolls).

Their online shop offers the necessary tools, including an oyster knife and shucking gloves. After a recent class with Rob and Sims, my husband successfully mastered shucking, and I now think I know so much about oysters. I can show you their hinge and their little white bellies. Oysters eat algae and filter water, playing a huge role in ocean restoration. I now know that you can hold up to a million oyster seeds in the palm of your hand. I learned that oysters are like wine; there’s the finish, the taste, and the texture, and they take on the flavors of where they’re grown. There’s so much more than brine, flavor-wise—some oysters are fruity, some have umami, some offer a mineral aftertaste.

In our oyster delivery, we got La St. Simon (from St. Simon’s Bay, New Brunswick, Canada), Roc Reserve (from the Real Oyster Cult farm in Duxbury), and East Beach Blonde (from Rhode Island). All were amazingly complex, and briny yet creamy. I could also appreciate the distinctions between each variety.

The Real Oyster Cult lesson also introduced me to new ways to enjoy oysters. All this time, my consumption was limited to shooters or my father-in-law’s horseradish-forward production. Here’s a fun fact—if you can’t shuck your own oysters, grill them. (They recommend slipping them between the slots of your grill.) You can also use your oven to get around shucking—pop each oyster into a muffin tin to open them up. Then you can enjoy them as is, with a squeeze of lime or lemon, with a splash of their mignon-nips, hot sauce, or wasabi.

If, like myself, you’re concerned about keeping live seafood in your refrigerator, know that oysters can stay fresh in your fridge for six to ten days after you receive them (and there are storage tips on their website). Seven days after our oyster delivery, I followed their recipe for oyster ceviche. Freshly shucked oysters topped with diced purple onion, jalapeño, baby peppers and cucumbers in a citrus marinade. Utterly amazing. The kind of thing my father-in-law would have loved.

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