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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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