How to Eat Raw Oysters in Public with Confidence
To flip or not to flip?
To set a few ground rules, we tapped chef Kyle Bailey, who currently serves as a partner of Washington, D.C.’s The Salt Line, a New England-inspired oyster and ale house, and co-founder of the D.C. chapter of Dock-to-Dish, which creates sustainable seafood sourcing cooperatives around the world.
“Be adventurous,” says Bailey, a 2011 F&W Best New Chef. “There is sometimes the perception that oysters are unapproachable, but they are historically the common man’s food." Below, find the chef's guidelines for maximizing flavor and minimizing confusion when you're eating oysters out.
Use the small fork
“Always begin by loosening the oyster. Generally, there is a small fork provided for this purpose, so that it is not attached to the shell. Then, bring the oyster shell to the lip of your mouth, tip slightly, and enjoy."
Flip the shell (but you're also not wrong if you don't)
"Discarded shells can be turned over face down and placed back on the ice or platter on which it was served. However, because the shell did come in direct contact with your mouth, it can also be placed on a share plate specifically designated for shells to avoid the possible spreading of germs.”
Chew, chew, chew
“An oyster is meant to be savored. Rather than swallowing whole, I recommend biting into the oyster so the full flavor profile can be experienced. Also, when consuming an oyster in the shell, remember the 'oyster liquor' is there to be enjoyed. The oyster shell contains this liquor, which is full of a briny flavor, so there is no need to remove before consuming. It will complement the flavors of the oyster itself, not overpower it.”
Keep an eye on origin
“Make sure the oysters are fresh, and keep in mind the freshest selections are generally local. It’s a requirement that all shellfish be tagged, which includes the day the oysters were harvested. A visual inspection can also help indicate how fresh the oyster is and ensure that it has not been opened."
Pair with something interesting
“Oysters are extremely versatile when it comes to pairing with alcohol. I recommend tailoring pairings to the occasion and specific situation. For example, I prefer West Coast oysters with Champagne because it has a touch of cucumber and melon, which pairs perfectly a glass of bubbly. Scotch is another great option. The smoky flavors complement oysters with high salinity. Oysters from the mid-Atlantic can be served with sake because the low salinity offsets the rice-based alcoholic beverage.”
Save the cocktail sauce for later
“When it comes to sauces and preparation, I’m a purist, it’s the nature of the job. I love cocktail sauce, but I save that for my fries. For easy at home prep, you really only need a drop of lemon juice. This allows the unique flavor profile of the oyster to shine.”
Try shucking at home (but do not store on ice)
“If you plan on shucking at home, take all the necessary precautions! Online video tutorials can be extremely helpful for beginners. A shucking knife and gloves are recommended, or you can utilize a thick kitchen towel to shield your wrist. I would also suggest becoming familiar with the visual anatomy of an oyster. There are two contact points to keep a shell closed. Separating those two key contact points is essential. Remember that oysters should be refrigerated. Don’t store on ice. In fact, oysters can be safely refrigerated close to a week before they need to be consumed.”