Is your oyster intel limited? Gary McCready, shucker at Philadelphia’s Sansom Street Oyster House, shares tips for the first-timer that will have you savoring these briny treasures with the best of them.
Oysters convey a taste of place like few foods. As filter feeders, they take in roughly 50 gallons of water a day, rich with minerals, phytoplankton and salt.
From the Chesapeake to Prince Edward Island, most East Coast oysters are the same species. Generally, these are brinier than their West Coast counterparts.
Expect plump, sweet, softer meats. A range of species is grown here whose meats can be pillow-like in texture. Unlike briny east-coasters, expect cucumber or "melon-forward" flavors, with a metallic zap.
These fast growers are mild and sweet, washed by waters from the Mississippi.
At an established spot, options will span coasts. Your shucker can help you navigate. McCready suggests to start with sweet, west and small.
Modern techniques have rendered the only-eat-oysters-in-months-with-an-R rule largely obsolete, but flavors evolve. As winter approaches, oysters fatten up on glycogen to survive cooler temps. In the summer, they go gamey and wither after spawning.
When your platter arrives, admire your oysters. McCready says they should appear plump, full and a little glossy. It’s also customary to place the shells upside down so that you can admire them after you eat.
The best way to taste an oyster is the simplest: unadorned, in the brine in which it was grown. This showcases an oyster’s unique character.
Properly shucked, the oyster will be separated from the shell, but otherwise intact. As you bite down (do it), sugars from the meat swirl into the brine.