I had a really delicious experience the other day while buying live oysters. It was National Oyster Day (August 5th), and I was looking forward to finding a new variety to sample. My favorites are Fanny Bay and Kumumoto.
My plan was to head to Santa Monica Seafood to pick up a dozen or so live oysters to enjoy on the half shell, however the traffic from La Jolla to Costa Mesa was brutal. I had to find a back-up plan. I remembered that I had a pretty good experience with the oysters at King’s Fishouse in Laguna Hills, so I headed there. I am not a huge fan of the food at this restaurant, but the oysters are nice.
At King’s, the oysters are kept on ice behind the designated raw bar. I took a seat at the bar and was greeted by the bartender. He was charismatic and chatty. He walked me through the ten varieties that he had available, which included West Coast and East Coast bivalves. What kind of oysters do you enjoy? Below is a snapshot of their menu.
Baja, Mexico the origin of the majority of the West Coast oysters. Aside from the smallish Kumamota, these varieties were large and salty. I like salty, but when going raw I prefer medium sized oysters. The East Coast oysters offered more variety in terms of region. I decided on the Naked Cowboys from Long Island. I did this for two reasons, I was intrigued by the name and I sampled one and it was delicious! The flavor was good, it was salty and tasted like briny ocean water and the texture was smooth and meaty.
This experience got to me to thinking about the various flavor profiles of oysters. Since I host a TV show, part of my job is describing what I am eating. This can be challenging at times. Similar to wine, the profiles of oysters vary by region, variety, age and a host of other factors. With this in mind I wanted to provide some information about oysters and how to express their attributes.
The University of Florida offers a good starting place. Researchers have put together a sensory profile for oysters that helps put universal terms to the flavors that we experience while enjoying raw oysters.
This fun story from Bon Appetite offers a do’s and don’ts of eating oysters.
Find a server with opinions to help you choose wisely.
Eat with your eyes first: a healthy oyster fills out the sturdy shell with fat, firm meat.
Feel free to send oysters back (an oyster should be swimming in the shell, never dry).
Order a few of the same type. Give yourself multiple tastes to identify its character.
Beware of oysters that are thin, watery, snotty, or contain a lot of tissue.
Slurp-and-swallow. Chew 2 or 3 times.
Think all oysters are the same. Most East Coast oysters are the same species (Virginica), but taste different depending on origin and season.
Drown oysters in toppings. Always eat the first one “naked.”
Eat oysters at a restaurant that pre-shucks. Yuck.