Crack, slurp, ah.
Yes, that is the sound of summer ending and oyster season beginning. The old adage about harvesting oysters in the months containing the letter ‘R’ is only partially true today.
Autumn is traditionally recognized as the start of oyster season in the Lowcountry because the summer spawning for wild oysters has ended and the ocean is slowly cooling down. These two naturally occurring phenomena make it unlikely for harmful bacteria to spread among shellfish, which means it’s time to start shucking!
Nowadays, with the capabilities of shipping and the increase of oyster farms, we can truly source delicious varieties year-round.
There are two types of oyster species that are harvested in the United States: the Eastern oyster and the Pacific oyster.
Eastern oysters are nutrient-dense, bivalve mollusks found from the waters of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and have served as a foundational source of nourishment for centuries. They contain vitamin D, copper, zinc, and manganese, with an incredible taste.
I prefer to source oysters from Cape Cod Bay and Boston. Maryland and Virginia oysters are also exceptionally flavorful. The northern climate allows for cool water temperatures year-round and the results are phenomenal.
The recipe options are also endless. Oysters can be baked into casseroles, mixed into stews, grilled, fried, broiled, roasted and even pickled. They are considered a delicacy served on the half-shell with a wedge of lemon and a sip of champagne.
When purchasing oysters, here are some tips to keep in mind. Single oysters are typically best on the half shell and each bite is meant to be savored. I recommend this selection for an intimate gathering.
Bushels are more economic and easier to prepare in a roast for a larger group of people. Generally, I recommend one bushel for every eight to 10 people.
As delicious as oysters are, some cooks avoid them because the shucking process is intimidating. To easily and safely shuck an oyster, wipe it off with a towel to remove any grit. On a table, partially fold the towel over the oyster with the flat side of the shell facing up and the hinge showing. Insert a clean oyster knife into the side of the hinge and gently twist.
Once you feel the hinge break, remove your knife and clean it. Hold the oyster in the towel with the larger, rounded side of the shell cupped in your hand. Slide your knife inside the shell and cut the muscle from the top. Gently pull the top shell off to remove it. Be careful not to spill the brine inside.
Make a scooping motion with the knife along the inside of the remaining shell, and the oyster is ready to prepare or serve.
If you are not a fan of raw oysters, consider serving roasted oysters. For a smaller batch to be enjoyed at home, place oysters (in their shells) in a pan on a heated grill and steam them until the shells open slightly. The pan will collect the brine that escapes and you can use that salty juice in a sauce or spoon it over the finished dish. These roasted oysters are best served with a lighter spirit, such as a glass of rosé or champagne.
So, “R” you ready for oyster season? Share your favorite recipes and preparation tips on social media and tag #TraditionOfSeafoodExcellence.
Charles J. Russo III is the owner of Russo’s Fresh Seafood Bluffton. russosfreshseafood.com