If there is one food that seems to have a lot of rules associated with it, it might be oysters. If you’ve never tried an oyster before, the first time out can be a little intimidating. You’re served a plate of shells on ice with zero instructions and a waitstaff that simply says, ‘enjoy.’
The taste might vary a little depending on how you eat your oyster. However, the dominant tastes will be salt, butter, and copper. In your mouth, an oyster will feel firm, a little gooey, and have some chew to it.
The type of oyster, as well as how you choose to eat it, will cause some variations in the taste and texture of the oyster.
Types of Oysters
Generally, when discussing oysters, they are in two camps: west coast oysters or east coast oysters. West coast oysters have more varieties, while those on the east coast basically have only one.
West Coast Oysters
Oysters from the west coast generally have a sweeter taste. However, they do get more savory when they are farmed in more northern regions. There are three main types of west coast oysters.
Pacific oysters are buttery and sweet. They also tend to have a fruit or vegetable aftertaste that can linger.
Similar to Pacific oysters, Kumamoto oysters are also sweet. However, instead of a buttery flavor, these have a nutty finish.
Olympia oysters are much less sweet than either Pacific or Kumamoto oysters. Their most prominent flavor is copper or a metallic taste.
East Coast Oysters
Most of the oysters that are farmed in America are east coast oysters. They have very little, if any, sweetness to them. East coast oysters are more of a savory flavor with tastes of brine, salt, copper, and butter.
On the east coast, the oysters tend to get more briny and salty the further north. Oysters farmed from New York are milder than those from Canada, for example.
While sometimes called oyster juice, oyster liquor is the liquid that sits inside the shell with the oyster. This liquid is full of delicious salty, briny flavors and should be consumed with your oyster.
When you tip the oyster into your mouth, make sure to get as much of the liquor as possible. Its flavor helps to enhance the taste of the oyster.
To Chew or Not to Chew
There is some debate in the oyster eating community about whether chewing oysters is appropriate or not. You’ll hear people say to simply loosen the oyster from the shell, tip it into your mouth and swallow. No chewing is necessary.
However, those on the chewing side of the fence argue that chewing your oysters is necessary. It is the only way to get the proper flavor from them.
When you swallow your oysters whole, you mostly get a flavor of the brine. However, when you chew your oyster you get a more complex flavor palate. Chewing them will help bring out some of those buttery notes which complement the saltiness.
Although the flavor tends to change, depending on where your oyster is farmed the texture stays fairly consistent.
The oyster itself has a slimy texture. When you bite into it, it should be firm and have a bit of chewiness to it. If you find that your oysters are tough or rubbery, they are probably old and you should stop eating them.
The Proper Way to Eat an Oyster
Now that you know how different oysters taste, you’re ready to try them. What are you supposed to do?
Eating oysters is much easier than you imagine. Simply take the tiny fork and loosen the oyster from the shell. Put the shell to your lips, sip from liquor and tip the oyster into your mouth.
Then you can chew or not, depending on which side of the argument you fall on.
What to Eat With Your Oyster
Oyster purists will probably tell you that the oyster does not need anything to enhance its flavor. However, when you are served oysters, they are often accompanied by lemon wedges or hot sauce. If you want to cut a little bit of the saltiness, feel free to use them.
Some of the other things that are commonly served with oysters are:
- Cocktail sauce
- Shallot mignonette
A Salty (or Sweet) Treat
So, the overwhelming taste of oysters, at least those farmed in America, is salty, briny, and buttery. If you’re looking for a sweeter oyster, look for ones farmed from the west coast.
Expect your oyster to feel slimy when you eat it. However, be sure to also enjoy the firm texture and bit of chew while you’re indulging in this luxurious treat.