By Kate Livie, author of Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay's Foundation and Future
1. When more than one kind of raw oyster is available, order up a mixed dozen.
An oyster’s flavor can vary greatly depending on the environment where it was grown. Even oysters of the same species can have a remarkable range of flavors, and the best way to explore the incredible array of oysters is to compare and contrast. When you can, order a mixed dozen from two or more places (good raw bars will always tell you where their oysters are sourced), then sit back and enjoy- you’ll be amazed at the differences between the oysters. Photo: The many varieties of oysters at a modern raw bar provide endless taste experiences for oyster lovers. Image by Kate Livie.
2. Naked oysters first, condiments second.
Raw oysters have very delicate and complex flavors that are easily masked by condiments. Before you drown your oyster in hot sauce or mignonette, taste one plain. Enjoy the unique combination of brine, minerals, and notes of cream or cucumber that oysters can convey. After that, feel free to go crazy with whatever sauces or flavorings you like. Photo: The subtle flavors of oysters on the half shell are best enjoyed without strong-tasting condiments. Image by Kate Livie.
3. Never order oysters at a restaurant when you can’t see them being shucked.
Some restaurants still pre-shuck their oysters and let them sit. Not only does this dry out the oysters, but it can lead to food poisoning. Only order at a raw bar where the oysters are clearly cold, and if you want to know the particulars about their freshness, ask for the oyster’s tag. All restaurants are required to keep these on hand. Photo: Fresh shucked shellfish is the only way to go if you want to savor oysters like a pro. Image by Kate Livie.
4. To double your pleasure, pair your oysters with a complimenting wine or beer.
The right beer or wine can perfectly accent the flavors in your oysters- whether a dry white wine like a Sancerre or a hop-forward beer with very salty oysters, or a stout or Gewurtztraminer with a sweeter, buttery oyster from a lower salinity region. Try different combinations until you hit your favorite oyster and drink pairing. Photo: Hoppy beers or dry white wines perfectly pair with fresh Chesapeake shellfish. Image by Kate Livie.
5. Oyster shells are not trash.
Oyster shells are an incredibly valuable resource for oyster reef restoration. Baby oysters, or ‘spat,’ need old shells to attach to in order to grow. Oyster shells have been depleted in many states, and the recycling of spent shell is a way to help aid oyster restoration efforts. So, don’t throw oyster shells away— and definitely don’t use them in your driveway or front path. Recycle them! Oyster shell recycling organizations are found throughout the Chesapeake Bay, and many restaurants have partnered with these organizations to make sure their shell is recycled. Always ask whether the restaurant recycles shell when eating oysters at a raw bar, and when at home, drop off your oyster shells at a recycling location. Save the Bay, one oyster at a time. Photo: Oysters like these were grown on fragments of old oyster shell. Many restaurants recycle their shell to aid oyster production for farms or restoration. Image by Kate Livie.