The popularity of oysters is evident in raw bars and restaurant menus across our country. Five species are commercially farmed in North America. Because the waters in which oysters grow imbue them with characteristics of the location, oysters are traditionally named for the bay, town or region from which they come. Names such as Aspy Bay, Raspberry Point and Small Gorge Inlet make it easy to remember your favourites.
Generally, Atlantic oysters have rough, thick shells with a tinge of green from their seaweed environment, which gives them a salty, briny and vegetative (often described as cucumber) flavour and aroma. Pacific oysters grow in a more sandy environment. Their cleaner, white to black shells hold oysters that are sweet and creamy with a slightly metallic (or mineral) flavour.
The "R" rule
It was said that oysters should be eaten only in months with the letter "R" (September through April). The reason that oysters are best during fall and winter is because they are spawning during summer and their texture changes from firm to milky and the flavour from sweet to bitter.
But with new varieties (such as West Coast Kumamoto oysters, which spawn in September and October and so are best in the summer), good oysters are available all year long. For Canadians, a better rule of thumb may be to enjoy East Coast oysters from October to Valentine's Day and West Coast oysters from mid-February to October.
Choosing and using
• Choosing: Eat live oysters as fresh as possible. Buy clean-smelling (like the sea), choice-grade oysters with closed shells from a reputable fishmonger with high turnover.
• Storing: Refrigerate live oysters upside down on a baking sheet covered by a damp towel for up to one week. If your fishmonger has seaweed, place it over the oysters to retain moisture and keep flavours fresh and lively.
• Cleaning: Just before shucking, scrub oysters with a stiff brush.
• Shucking: Using a folded towel, hold oyster flat side up and insert oyster knife (never a sharp knife) into the small opening near the hinge; twist to open. Once the hinge gives, slide the knife along the bottom shell to sever the muscle. Remove the top shell and pick out any grit or pieces of broken shell. Wipe the knife between oysters.
Page 1 of 2 -- Learn more about oyster varieties, plus find eight Tested Till Perfect oyster recipes on page 2