Oysters have been used by humans as a source of pearls and also as food for centuries. There are mainly two types of oysters, the pearl oysters and true oysters. As the name suggests, pearl oysters yield pearls and belong to the family Deteriorate. True oysters belong to the family Streisand and are really the edible oysters. Pacific oysters, Minamoto oysters, Stellar Bay oysters, and Melon oysters are the most commonly eaten oysters. Though a lot of people might squirm at the mere idea, oysters are usually eaten live! And they are full of zinc, iron, calcium, selenium, and vitamins A and B12. Oysters fall under the shellfish category. They are harvested either naturally from oyster beds, or they are commercially farmed and managed for human consumption. If you are worried whether it's safe to eat them raw, you need to know if you are allergic to shellfish. If you are, it's best to avoid them. Or cook the oysters before you eat which kills most disease-causing bacteria and virus, to lessen the chances of you breaking out in an allergic reaction. An interesting legend associated with eating oysters is that they should not be consumed in months that do not have the letter R in them. It stems from the fact that eating oysters should be avoided during the hot season, since that's when a lot of bacteria thrive in coastal waters. May, June, July, and August satisfy the condition, and hence the myth surrounding the eating of oysters! Also, oysters are the most flavorful during winter months because the waters are cooler.
What to Look for When Buying Oysters
When you buy oysters, always look for those which are tightly shut. If the shell is slightly open, tap the shell. If it snaps shut immediately, it's safe to buy it. If it doesn't, do not buy the oyster. That is an indication that the oyster is dead, and consuming dead oysters should be avoided at all costs. You can also smell it, it acts as a good guide and you can judge the freshness of the oyster inside. Shells that emit an unpleasant odor should not be purchased.
Keep them covered in ice all the way home, and ideally, consume them on the same day. Do not immerse them in water. Contrary to popular belief, this is the wrong thing to do, because the oysters will die once you immerse them in water. Once you pry open the oyster shell, the meat inside should be clean white and have a typically salty smell to it. Discard the oyster if the meat and the surrounding fluid appear brownish or grayish.
The Right Way to Eat Raw Oysters
Eating oysters on the half shell, or for the uninitiated, eating raw oysters, is an art, and it requires practice and patience. Removing the oyster from its shell prior to consumption is known as shucking. There are special knives available for shucking, which are used to pry open the shell. An oyster shell has sharp edges, so be careful when you handle it. Hold the shell such that the curved part of the shell containing the oyster should be nestled in your palm.
To prevent getting nicked, hold a thick towel and then firmly grasp the oyster shell in your palm. Insert the knife at the hinge that lies between the top and bottom valves of the oyster shell. Slide it gently around the shell and give it a slight twist, severing the abductor muscle that holds the top and bottom halves together. Now use a fork to gently move the oyster and make sure you detach it from the shell. Take care to see you don't accidentally spill the liquor (the salty liquid that surrounds the oyster) that's inside the shell. Time to eat the oyster! Lift the shell with the wide end toward your mouth, and slurp the oyster, along with the liquor surrounding it. Chew it a few times before you swallow it and savor the exquisite taste!
Oysters are usually eaten without any seasoning (purists prefer it that way). But you might want to use lemon juice and vinegar as dressing. If you order oysters in a restaurant, they will be most commonly served with horseradish sauce, mignonette sauce, shallot vinegar, or some peppy cocktail sauce. White wine goes well with oysters. As a connoisseur, you might be able to clearly tell where the oyster came from. Typically, oysters found on the east coast are saltier, whereas west coast varieties are more on the sweeter side.
If you plan to eat oysters but have never tried them before, consider buying and eating them at home, rather than having them in a restaurant. This way you can practice the art of shucking and eating them right. Once you have mastered the right technique, you can safely order them in a restaurant and proudly show off your oyster-eating skills, without fumbling.