Oysters: A Beginner's Guide. Tips and tricks from the Cult Crypt


In other words: What to look for when buying oysters. How to assess a fresh oyster.


The perfect party food.

There's a reason the raw bar draws crowds. A bed of glittering crushed ice stacked with fleshy, freshly shucked oysters. Pop the bubbly already. There’s anticipation while the shucker gently severs the muscle from the gleaming shell, deftly, confidently, without hesitation. You pick up the oyster, it’s slightly wet in your hands, and inhale it like a sea breeze. Throw your head back, chew, and swallow. The rush is immediate. Did you just plunge into the Atlantic? Or was it the Pacific? Is the salt effervescent, is it muted with mineral undertones? It’s a quest, it’s a tease. It’s what makes oysters the perfect party food. Here’s a quick guide of do’s and don’ts, and what to look for when buying oysters and storing them at home. So… at last, you can be the master of your own oyster. Let’s break it down.

Know your dealer.

Don’t just buy from any old Tom, Dick and Harry on the street. Know your dealer. We recommend well, us. Depending on where you live, from your local fish market - rather than a supermarket - to avoid the middleman. Trust is the word. Direct is another.  Why can you trust us? We receive oysters directly from farms and ship them directly to you. In between, we  care for them with great attention to detail. 

Have oysters. Will travel.

Oysters are perishable (obvi.) but also very hearty (until they’re not). Meaning they’re quite durable compared to other shellfish and regular fish. They travel well because their shells have a tight seal and they’re pretty sturdy. Needless to say, you want to trust they’ve been shepherded in careful hands with attention to detail, cleanliness and safety. We‘re an oyster cult: we take care of our own: our oysters and your experience. If neither is up to snuff, we will take care of you.

Tap that oyster. 

As we’ve mentioned, trusting your source is key. Why you can trust us? Because we have metrics for freshness and quality. We put oysters through their paces. We check, and double check, wash, clack, count, tap, and sniff. Before we place a bag of oysters in your box we give it one final inspection. If we hear a hollow sound, we open the bag and tap them two by two together. Again. Read on…to find out why.

Don’t fear the oyster.

Since they are a live product, there’s always room for flux on their journey. Don’t fear. This simple trick of gently tapping two together will help you determine freshness. The noise of healthy intact oysters sounds like two sturdy rocks hitting. If you hear a very hollow sound (not a low dull thud) then the oyster may have lost most, if not all of its liquid. Simply put aside and shuck at the end. That’s the final test. Sometimes you’ll find the oyster is alive, well, and full of liquid. But if it’s dry, simply discard. If an oyster is opened or has a hole in it, discard it. If you find any of the above, do not panic. One bad oyster does not mean the whole bag is off. It’s not catching and they’re not related.

Stop and smell the oyster. 

A fresh oyster once shucked should be full - to mostly full - of ocean water and have a soft ocean or mineral smell. If it has a funky, strong, or unpleasant odor, do not consume it. Discard, and move on. If there’s one funky oyster it does not mean that the whole bag is bad. Unless the whole box has been temperature compromised, treat one bad oyster just like one bad apple. Remove it. And then like Taylor Swift says, “Shake it off.”

Temperature compromised.

What’s this all about? If your box of oysters has been temperature compromised, most likely it will smell (badly). It might be leaking and damp. 

There’s a little blue temp sensor in the bottom of your box. Fish it out and assess. Pay attention to the small white rectangle in the middle of the sensor. Is the rectangle all white? If so, it’s all good. Is it half white or a quarter white? If so, then it means it’s been subjected to some high temps. Don’t panic. Just take a pic of the sensor. Then email team@realoystercult.com, or hit the chat button on our site. We will respond asap. 

Sometimes the temp sensor is faulty. So, what is most important to assess? Are the ice packs cool (even if melted) are the oysters cool to the touch? 

Lasting goodness - How to store your oysters.

Do refrigerate. Don’t freeze. Storing right in the fridge in the mesh bag they were shipped in works great. You can also store in a bowl with a damp towel on top. The towel is not necessary, but it can help them retain their moisture.

Don’t feel like you have to eat all of your shelled beauties at once. Fresh oysters can last up to a week if kept cold. If you do freeze them unknowingly, you can cook them and eat them safely. 

Best ways to serve oysters.

Fresh oysters. There’s nothing more flavorful or enticing then serving them on the half shell. Shuck and serve on a bed of crushed ice. Crushed ice is preferable because the oysters can lounge comfortably. But if regular ice is all you have, then by all means ice them down. Most importantly, keep them cool. But don’t let them sit in water, so once the ice melts, refresh, refresh, refresh. 

Accoutrement: What compliments bivalves? 

Citrus is critical. Try an oyster naked if you’ve never had it, but reserve the right to add a spritz of lemon or lime. It compliments the briny experience without overpowering it. And for a newbie it can make the difference between having another oyster or never having another oyster again. Lemon is standard and delicious, a lime is unexpected but equally delectable. Particularly lovely in the summer, limes have an extra zing that heightens a fresh, briny oyster like a margarita with salt.

Citrus is not as complimentary on a west coast oyster. Mignon-nips (our small batch mignonettes in nip bottles) or sauces are the way to go. The wasabi mignonette sauce in the Lost at Sea collection was created with west coast oysters in mind. It has a soy sauce and wasabi base that pairs well with a sweeter more mineral flavored oyster. A west coast oyster has a more particular taste and can handle strong complementary or contradictory pairings more readily. 

Skip the cocktail sauce on oysters.

We do not recommend cocktail sauce on raw oysters. Cocktail sauce started as a trend to mask the flavor of not very fresh oysters. Back in the day, oysters were transported from the coast to Chicago on trains on beds of sawdust. You can imagine that they did need some flavor altering. Cocktail sauce is great on shrimp but it’s going to suppress the delicate notes of an oyster.

Do try broiled oysters, grilled, or baked oysters

There’s a multitude of recipes…from uber simple to decadent. One trick to know: heat will make an oyster pop open slightly and then it’s just a matter of prying open the top shell. 

A shucking work-around.

So if you want a shucking work around, here it is. In the oven use a baking tray - make a bed of rock salt or use a muffin tin. On the grill, simply place oysters cup up and then let the heat work its magic for a few minutes. They’ll sizzle and the top shells will pop open. Voilà. At this point use an oven mitt or tongs to remove the top shell and then add a dollop of butter, garlic, shallot, spinach, cheese - or simply eat the oyster poached with no fixings. Delicious and easy!

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