A Quick Primer For The Next Time You Order Oysters

Let’s face it: Ordering oysters can be hard.

Unless you grew up dining on bivalves, you could stare at a menu all night long and still not know what the heck you’re eating. But with a little bit of knowledge, you can begin to understand and appreciate the seriously immense world of oysters (or at least not sound like an idiot in front of your date).

We sat down with James Kim, the Executive Chef of the new Grand Banks Oyster Bar (which is located on a historic ship in the Hudson River), to get a crash course in oyster-ology, complete with a tasting. Kim has been working with oysters for many years, and when speaking with him, you can really tell how much he loves these little grey and white blobs.

Grand banks oyster bar nycChristian Storm / Business InsiderJames Kim, Executive Chef of the new Grand Banks Oyster Bar

So what makes oysters so confusing? Why are there so many variations and differences, requiring encyclopedic knowledge to master?

The most important factor in an oyster’s flavour, known as its “terroir,” is the water it lives in.

Kim tells us that oysters are filter feeders, meaning they get their food by straining it out of the surrounding water through a filter in their body.

And because different locations have different types of water, every oyster tastes distinct.

Little Shemogue OysterChristian Storm/Business InsiderOur first oyster of the day was a Little Shemogue Oyster, harvested from New Brunswick, Canada. This oyster was tender and chewy, with a minimal, briney flavour.

Oysters that are eaten raw are generally harvested from colder waters. That’s because when oysters spawn, they have more bad-tasting biofluids in them, and oysters in warmer water spawn more.

This, Kim says, is why, when you eat oysters from areas with warmer waters such as New Orleans, the oysters are usually cooked or fried.

OystersChristian Storm/Business InsiderOur next sample was the Rocky Reef Oyster from Huntington Bay, New York. This oyster was more complex in texture and plumper. The ‘liquor,’ or the water-like liquid around the body in the shell, was salty and nice, too.

Generally, an oyster’s texture can run from springy to creamy. Springy oysters taste leaner, cleaner, and somewhat chewy. Creamy oysters are more rich and smooth.

Chef Kim suggested new omers start as oyster purists, forgoing the condiments in an effort to truly taste and understand the flavours and textures of the various oysters.

Naked cowboy oysterChristian Storm/Business InsiderThis is Naked Cowboy Oyster, named of course for the famous street performer in Manhattan’s Times Square. It comes from Long Island Sound, where the water is a bit warmer currently, and thus it tasted a bit gamey, fishy taste and was very salty.

Oysters are divided into two camps: east coast and west coast.

East coast oysters tend to be springy, briny, juicy, and clean, with more savory flavours, while West coast oysters are sweeter and less briny, with a plump and creamy texture and flavours of cucumber or melon. West coast oyster shells are rougher and fluted, while east coast oysters have smoother, ridged shells.

Washburn Island oysterChristian Storm/Business InsiderThis oyster, a Washburn Island Oyster from Waquoit Bay, Massachusetts, was much more plump and creamy than previous ones.

You can tell how creamy an oyster will be by looking for how opaque it is. If you return to the first oyster, the Little Shemogue, you can see it’s almost all opaque, and thus not creamy at all. But, if you look at the Washburn Island above or the Kusshi below, you can see how off-white and opaque they are, signaling its creamy, smooth texture.

Kusshi oysterChristian Storm/Business InsiderOur last oyster was the Kusshi from British Columbia, Canada. As you can see, it’s totally opaque and was very creamy and rich to eat, with a nice mineral aftertaste. Chef Kim said it was his favourite of the bunch, and kindly gave us a second sample of it.

Grand Banks gets all its oysters fromBlue Island Oyster Company, located in Long Island. They distribute some of the best and most recognised types of sustainably sourced oysters to many of the most respected seafood restaurants in the New York area. Most oysters are raised in an environment that exists in a wild setting (such as an ocean bay), but that is controlled by the harvesters to ensure the highest quality.

Grand Banks Oyster Bar Boat NYCChristian Storm / Business InsiderGrand Banks Oyster Bar, located on Pier 25 in the Hudson River.

NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.