Ready for the Raw Bar? Here’s Everything You Need to Know
Delicious, chic, and figure-friendly, oysters are my go-to appetizer. Living in California, I’m fortunate enough to enjoy a fantastic local selection, however on a recent trip to Sydney I was introduced to Oz’s best oysters—and OMG! Thanks in part to pristine waters off its southern coast, Australia is one of the best places for oysters. After sampling a variety, I can say that Sydney Rock Oysters are now among my favorite in the world, and I plan on indulging whenever I’m in town.
Since oysters are best enjoyed fresh, raw, and as close to the beach as possible, you’ll rarely find them imported from afar. You’ll have to travel the world to taste all of its oysters, and that’s part of the fun.
Every trip to a coastal city becomes an opportunity to try a new taste of the sea, chilled on the half-shell and paired with a little something bubbly.
I was inspired to create this Girl’s Guide to give you an idea of what to look for while at home or on the road. Whether you’re just warming up to the idea of raw shellfish or can’t wait to get your hands on a rare, bold varietal, this guide teaches you the basics, plus expert tips on this elegant global delicacy.
Fresh Oysters at Your Doorstep
To serve the freshest oysters at your next dinner party, have them overnighted straight from the water to your doorstep. Island Creek Oysters in Massachusetts and Taylor Shellfish Farms in the Pacific Northwest are two excellent growers who ship oysters all around the U.S in secure custom packaging.
Three species of oyster are grown in Australia. The native Angasi is extremely rare, while Sydney Rock Oysters and Pacific Oysters dominate most menus. Best in the summer, Sydney Rock Oysters are found on the eastern coast of Australia and New Zealand. Pacific Oysters, better in R-Months, are native to Japan, brinier and saltier. They’re usually grown in colder waters off the coast of Southern Australia and around Tasmania.
TRY: Pacific Coffin Bay Oysters, one of the most popular varieties, have a strong briny flavor. Cape Hawke Sydney Rock Oysters are milder, creamy with a complex mineral texture. If you catch any kind of Angasi on the menu, just go for it. These large, meaty, full-flavored oysters are not like any other in the world.
From Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico, all East Coast oysters (except the European Flats grown in Maine) are of the Atlantic, or Virginica species, but there are countless local varieties. If you’ve spent any time in Boston or New York City, you’ve likely come across Wellfleets and Blue Points, the most popular and abundant east coast oysters. With many growers positioned on the open ocean, New England boasts some of the briniest oysters in the world, while Chesapeake oysters are generally milder. Gulf Coast oysters don’t have the best reputation, but Apalachicola Oysters from a sparsely populated bay on the Florida Panhandle are prized for being some of the last wild-harvested oysters around.
TRY: Glidden Point Oysters from Damariscotta, Maine, are meticulously grown by one woman in some of the deepest, coldest water on the East Coast. WiAnno Oysters, grown in the Wellfleet salt marshes of Cape Cod, are among the few Wellfleets available year-round, the growers taking great care to keep them in top condition. Beausoleils from Nova Scotia consistently have a sweet finish and are recommended for beginners.
Europe is best known for its Flat Oyster, the most famous of which is the Belon, native to the Belon River in Brittany, France. European Flat Oysters were brought to Maine in the 1950s, but are still extremely rare (and pricey) stateside. Belons can grow to the size of dinner plates and have a sharp taste a bit like anchovies. They are not for everyone, but some people can’t get enough. In the past fifty years Pacific Oysters have become the most common species grown and sold in Europe, but many delicious native varieties are produced in smaller quantities along the English coast and in northern France.
TRY: The Kelly Galloway, a native Irish oyster that’s similar to the Belon, but even bigger and saltier. Jersey Coast Oysters, harvested in clean seawater off the northern coast of France, are salty, clean and crisp. Bouzigues are a fruity and crunchy native oyster from one of the largest lakes in France, while sweet and complex Speciales Gillardeau are often considered the creme de la creme among gourmands.
Oysters grown on the West Coast are generally sweeter than their eastern counterparts. Along with the ubiquitous Pacific Oyster, the Pacific Northwest also produces the highly coveted Kumamoto Oyster, a sweet, fruity and small species originally from Japan that’s popular among beginners and connoisseurs alike. The native Olympia from Washington State is hardest to find. These small, earthy oysters were a favorite of Lewis and Clark and almost disappeared during the gold rush. They don’t travel well, so you’ll have to carpe diem when visiting Seattle or Portland.
TRY: Almost as deep as they are long, Kusshis from British Columbia are small, creamy and mild. Penn Cove Selects from the Puget Sound have won the Most Beautiful Oyster competition three times, and on top of their good looks, they also have a coveted crisp, cucumber finish. Snow Creeks, also from Puget, are grown ninety-feet deep and are consequently much brinier and saltier than most West Coast oysters.