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10 Oyster Common Mistakes You’re Making: The Oyster Bar Guide

It’s one thing to order a dozen at your favorite oyster bar. But it’s another thing completely to get a dozen from your fishmonger to cook at home. Naturally, these bivalves must be handled with care or risk shell shards, flavor loss, or worse. So we put together some common oyster mistakes people make and how to avoid them. Here we go!

1) Ordering too many for too long an event

Oysters are all about brininess. But they’re also about the delicate texture, which is why you should never order more than three oysters per person. The idea of thinking about oyster ‘flavor’ is a bit misleading. More often, the flavor is a combination of the brine and the slight crispness of the meat.

2) Filling up on other seafood before getting to oysters

This will happen at a shellfish-heavy event or restaurant. But you’re missing out! Oysters have such specific flavors (think: seaweed, seawater, and slurp) that you want to have them taste like oysters. They’re not all going to be the same. That’s the point of a good oyster bar. Oysters are delicate, so their flavors go best when paired with other delicate items.

How do you know if an oyster will have the best flavor? It’s easy. A seafood restaurant won’t serve oysters that are bad: A good mollusk person is going to want your business, and you’ll know it when you taste. We recommend ordering a wider variety of oysters, which will help you figure out what sort of flavors you love most.

3) Letting oysters sit out for hours

Some people do this as a way to let the oyster breathe before eating it or because they want them on ice so that there’s no chance of digestive issues from warm water. While it is true that colder temperatures calm an oyster’s nervous gills and inhibit it from spitting out any sand, there’s no need to overdo it. Letting oysters sit on ice for more than 20 minutes can have the reverse effect and dampen some of the briny flavors.

4) Not choosing based on the texture

Oyster quality varies by season (in the summertime and during harvest, oysters are meatier; in the winter, they’re dryer) and region (oysters from colder waters have a different texture than oysters from warmer ones). But quality isn’t all that matters. The texture of an oyster is crucial. That’s why you want to enjoy your oyster on its own. If it’s going on a charcuterie plate, eating it with cold cuts or other salty meats dries the oyster out since your tongue will be watering for those rich foods.

5) Not asking how it’s been stored

Always ask if they shuck and store the oysters in their own juices or if they’ve been frozen. Oysters that are shucked and stored in their own juices will be plump; frozen oysters will be shrunken. Look at the oyster. If it’s deflated, you know something went wrong.” And, of course, don’t buy any oyster that has an open shell. You wouldn’t buy an egg with a broken shell, would you?

6) Refusing to remove the oyster from its shell

This is the exception to number two. If your friend or date asks to do this for you, let them! Of course, it’s more fun to shuck yourself. But just like a lobster, it’s not worth the effort if you plan on eating more than one or two. Plus, removing the oyster from its shell will help expose all of that yummy meat.

7) Failing to use condiments

Condiments can be as simple as lemon (if using a lemon twist, cut off a bit of the twist so that it hits your tongue first) or as complex as a mignonette (a sauce made from shallots, wine vinegar, and pepper). In either case, don’t be afraid to ask for them. Or make your own with an equal mix of mayonnaise, minced shallot, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.

8) Eating cheap oysters

It’s true that you get what you pay for. But oyster quality can also differ between brands, so don’t rule out an expensive brand just because it’s pricey! I know a lot of people who only want Blue Point or Malpeques. But if you’re talking about an oyster with a lot of meat, like a Belon or some other large-shelled variety, you should try it. It might not be what you expect!

9) Not eating weird ones

Sometimes the weirdest-shaped shells are the best tasting. That’s because they give the oyster more room to grow, and when the oyster is bigger, it’s generally meatier. Oysters are also classified by how they look on the outside: there are three categories – flat (called “gill” because that’s what you see when you crack open its shell), button or round (the most common), and deep cup-shaped. If you’re not sure what to order, go for the deep cup.

10) Not drinking anything with it

Unless you enjoy your food completely dry (and we certainly don’t), then do yourself a favor and order an ice-cold beer or a glass of wine that complements the flavor profile of your oysters. Again, we suggest choosing something that’s light and crisp.

Conclusion

The tips and tricks in this article should help you make more informed purchasing decisions when selecting oysters. While there are plenty of ways to enjoy your favorite mollusk, the most important thing is that they’re fresh! Remember these key points:

  • Not overdoing it on ice (20 minutes max).

  • Choosing based on texture.

  • Asking how they’ve been stored.

  • Refusing to remove from their shell unless asked by a company or friend/date.

  • Using condiments with them for added flavor and pairing with light beverages like beer or wine.

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