“And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.” – Lewis Carroll
Summer has never been my favorite time of year, so I’m okay with its recent exit. Maybe that’s because I grew up in Southern California, where summer is played on a continuous loop. Or maybe it’s because I’ve always been more of a coats-and-scarves kind of girl, which just isn’t practical when it’s 85 and muggy.
But mostly, really, it’s because I can’t shake the old adage that you shouldn’t eat raw oysters in a month without an R in it. (Although that’s likely not the case these days.) So for four long months, I feel like I’m being punished—especially now that I live in the Puget Sound region, or Oysterland.
How to Eat Raw Oysters
I like to think of myself as an oyster barfly. Over the years and piles of empty shells, I’ve figured out a few things about how to eat these bivalves raw.
Before you do anything else, try them completely au naturel, with nothing but the briny water in the shell (liquor). It’s the best way to pick up on the unique flavors of each variety.
A little squeeze of lemon juice never hurt anything, and it can help play up an oyster’s subtle notes.
A mignonette is a traditional sauce made of wine vinegar, minced raw shallots and cracked pepper. The acidity makes a great counterpoint to the creamier, more toothsome varieties.
You’ll see freshly grated horseradish and cocktail or hot sauces served often with oysters, but they can completely overwhelm the little guys. Use them sparingly if you must use them at all. As fun as being floored by a head-clearing hit of raw horseradish can be, the point is to taste the oyster, right?
Which reminds me of something else: I often hear people ask if you should chew oysters. Yes! Oysters are just like any other food — if you swallow it whole, you won’t taste much, if anything. So by all means, chew a little before swallowing.
I see a lot of confusion out there about what to do with the wee fork that may arrive with your oysters. It’s not for spearing an oyster and shoveling it to your mouth.
Instead, use it to gently wiggle the oyster in its shell, making sure the adductor muscle has been fully cut away so the oyster’s ready to slide. If it is, bring the shell to your lips and slurp up the oyster. This might feel less than graceful at first, but after a dozen or so (and a glass or two of Chablis, Champagne or dry cider), you’ll be an old salt.
Now how about you — do you love oysters or are they too intimidating? How do you like to eat them? Leave a note in the comments!
Tip: If you develop an oyster habit the way I have, you’ll want to learn to shuck them yourself. You can pick up the basic technique with our video tutorial featuring the lead shucker from another of my favorite oyster bars.