Ever been nervous to order fresh oysters on the menu because you’re worried about eating them in public? If so, you aren’t alone. In fact, even those who are comfortable with oysters still get nervous, and this is because different people have their own style of eating them. Rather than seeing oysters as something you should never touch for fear of being mocked or doing something silly, you should see them as an adventure.
What is the Right Answer?
Before launching into some tips, it’s important to reiterate that there’s no universal way to eat an oyster. If somebody picks you up on eating an oyster differently, that’s their business. If you have no experience at all, don’t worry because there’s a step-by-step process in the next section. If you want to know where we enjoy our oysters, you can find me chowing down a dozen at the Mudbar Restaurant on the weekends.
Eating an Oyster
Step 1: Use the Small Fork
Although there’s no wrong way of eating an oyster, it’s easy to make the process harder than it needs to be. To start, use the small fork to ensure that the oyster is detached; you should feel it move around inside the shell.
Step 2: Take it From the Wide End
Once you’re sure the oyster is free, lift the shell and take it from the wide end because it’s generally easier to slurp this way.
Step 3: Chew
This might sound obvious, but those unaccustomed to having an oyster in the mouth might believe the myths that suggest the oyster should simply slide down the throat. No, you can chew a couple of times to release the flavour. Would you just swallow a grape? Probably not, because you wouldn’t get any of the flavours as it passes through. In the same way, there’s nothing wrong with chewing an oyster.
Step 4: Enjoy
Oysters aren’t something we get at the weekly shop, so enjoy eating oysters in the restaurant and make it a part of the experience.
How can I tell a good oyster from a bad one?
This is a great question, and two signs are lots of seawater and an opaque oyster; the clearer the oyster, the less food it received while growing. Oysters come in different sizes, but even the small varieties should fill the shell well. Also, it’s normally easy to spot a bad oyster due to the smell. Bad oysters are uncommon in restaurants because it’s a little embarrassing and can make customers ill.
Should I turn the shell over?
Some people choose to turn the shell over when finished, but this is normally a tradition that helps the server know when you’re finished more than anything else. In some eateries, they will provide an extra plate for discarded shells.
Is the location of origin important?
Yes, and the freshest oysters are normally the ones that haven’t travelled far. In case you didn’t know, all shellfish are now tagged to include their location of origin and harvest date.
Is it cheating to eat oysters with a cocktail sauce, lemon, or another accompaniment?
Absolutely not, and it’s time that people enjoyed oysters in a way that suits them. If you want to garnish your oyster, go for it. If you want to follow the purist line of thinking and eat the oyster alone, this is equally fine.
Should I avoid the ‘oyster liquor’?
Again, this comes down to preference, but many oyster eaters enjoy the liquor found inside the shell. For the inexperienced, the liquor comes with a brine-like flavour and doesn’t normally overpower the oyster itself.
How do I use the cocktail sauce?
While purists will leave the cocktail sauce untouched, some eat it with the oyster (or even save it for the fries!).