Oysters don’t always have to be served on ice. In this blog post, I’ll be sharing how you can shop, shuck and serve fresh oysters on the half shell and make it look elegant on a bed of pink Himalayan salt for a special date night or day date at home.
From choosing oysters to opening them with an oyster shucker to presenting them, along with my easy red wine mignonette recipe plus a new and different way to serve crackers (we’re not talking about plain round oyster crackers in little bite sized bags), I’ll show you in 5 easy steps how you can easily prepare to shuck, present and serve this the way restaurants do.
STEP ONE: SHOP FOR FRESH OYSTERS
Where to shop for fresh oysters to shuck at home
They used to say that you were only supposed to consume oysters in the months that contain the letter ‘r’. So that would be September through April. Not entirely true. You can enjoy them year-round. Though in those colder months, because of the natural oyster life cycle, you would be enjoying a plumper oyster.
This might come as a surprise, but fresh oysters sold at retail supermarkets have been out of the water for about a couple of weeks. Don’t worry, that’s totally fine. As long as you are buying from a reputable seller with a good turnover (meaning the oysters are actually being sold and replenished) and they sell them on ice, you’re good.
When you do buy them, make sure they have that fresh-sea/ocean/salty smell and should have some weight on them. That weight is from the natural juice, which in turn keeps the oysters alive and fresh.
When in doubt, ask!
Don’t be afraid to ask how fresh they are. By law, it is required to have the oyster’s harvest date tagged. So the less time they’ve been out of the water, the better and fresher they are.
The best place to buy oysters is through oyster farmers if you have any nearby. Just like your favorite farmers market, they offer the freshest goods and the best prices.
I get mine at Central Market here in Houston, TX and they cost $2 a piece. Way better than sitting down at a restaurant for double that price.
You can also ask to try a sample to judge its freshness. They might ask you to pay for it, but it is well worth your time and money. If you can, ask to handpick and select the heaviest oysters. Finally, make sure you don’t grab any dead oysters. You can tell if the shells are open and don’t close when you tap on them.
How to store fresh oysters to shuck at home
When you purchase the oysters, make sure they hand them to you on ice. Have them toss a bag of ice into the bag to preserve its freshness. When you get home, don’t let them dry out either. Keep them in a bowl covered with a plastic bag or a wet towel. It can actually stay fresh this way for up to a week.
Don’t allow the oysters to submerge in the melting ice. The fresh water can kill the oyster if they are sitting in the water for a long time. You can keep them in the fridge at 38-40F. Do not freeze them.
Make sure that the oyster’s shell is still shut tight. That means, it’s alive and it should be good for you and your date.
STEP TWO: PREPARING YOUR TOOLS FOR SHUCKING AND SERVING OYSTERS AT HOME
How to prepare to shuck oysters at home
Tools needed to shuck and serve oysters at home
You don’t need much to when you learn how to shuck oysters at home. I’ve seen others open oysters with a screwdriver, a knife (be careful!) but I used an oyster shucker easily found on Amazon. I like having proper tools. Other than that, I used a kitchen rag to protect my other hand. If you have never tried shucking oysters at home before, you can definitely use a kitchen glove like THIS.
Ingredients and other equipment needed to shuck, serve and present oysters at home
If you know me by now, you know that I love a good presentation. Coming from the luxury hotel industry and being Michelin-trained, this sort of thing is just ingrained in me. There are a few things to add to your wow factor when you present this appetizer at home so let’s get to the mise en place:
- Crushed ice or rock salt – I used salt. Actually pink Himalayan salt with a little bit of water to bind it together. I like it better for the color, as well as for the fact that salt doesn’t melt like ice, which could make a mess at home. If you consume them right away and don’t plant to leave the oysters out for a long time, you don’t have to serve them on a bed of ice to keep them cold.
- Accoutrements: lemon wedges or halves, mignonette sauce (recipe follows), saltines or crackers.
- Deep platter or tray: this is where you will present the oysters. I like using a round platter to line the shells in a circle.
- Trash bin: to dispose of the shells.
STEP THREE: LET’S START SHUCKING!
Get ready to save money when you learn to shuck ‘em yourself
When you learn how to shuck oysters yourself at home, you open your doors to yet another way to enjoy a foodie favorite for a fraction of the cost. You don’t have to pay restaurant prices which means, the product, the silverware, the taxes, tips and labor to have someone shuck them for you.
A few things to have nearby and think about early to make oyster shucking at home a smooth experience:
- Have a shell bucket to get rid of shells (keep your work area clean)
- Have a small bowl of water (to rinse out any ocean debris from the oysters)
- Plan your oyster plate if you’ll be serving on ice or on salt
- Plan the accoutrements to serve along with the fresh oysters. Don’t forget your drink pairing. We’ll go over that too.
How to shuck oysters at home
You can watch how I demonstrate how to shuck oysters from home, and how I prepare the accoutrements in this video below from my YouTube channel, Chef Rafael Gonzalez. For this special date at home, I’m serving fresh oysters with spiced fried saltines, a lemon and red wine vinegar mignonette.
STEP FOUR: THE FUN SIDES OR THE ACCOUTREMENTS
Traditionally, fresh raw oysters are served with three condiments: mignonette, cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. A little bit goes a long way since you don’t want to drown the raw oyster goodness with the sauces. You can also enjoy them on their own, savor the flavor of the ocean and consume them bare, without any sauces.
TRY MY RED WINE VINEGAR MIGNONETTE HERE:
2 tbs crushed coarse black peppercorns
2 tbs minced shallots
½ cup red wine vinegar
- Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Let it rest for 30 minutes before serving.
- Serve in a little ramekin with a small serving spoon together with the platter of oysters on the half shell.
STEP FIVE: FUN PAIRINGS
How do you eat oysters and what goes well with them?
In the simplest way and most traditional way, you can enjoy a good pairing with lemons or wine vinegar and crunchy oyster crackers. Horseradish is a nice touch too with a bit of a kick.
If you want to elevate the oyster experience, you can serve it with a spoonful of caviar.
Some places serve it with lime slices instead of lemon, tabasco sauce and slices of fresh bread and butter.
As for a drink, a nice, slightly chilled, dry white wine or light rosé pairs beautifully. Again, if you want to elevate the experience and turn your date into an even more special occasion, champagne is your best bet. It adds a depth of flavor to your pairing and the bubbles add a nice contrast in texture to the smoothness of the oyster.
You can also do as the Dutch and pair with a light beer. Or, as they do it in Florida, with ketchup and mustard, with a side of fries, the all-American way.
WHAT IF I DON’T WANT TO EAT THEM RAW
Understandable. If you are not ready to eat these little suckers raw, you can have them as Oysters Rockefeller which is fully cooked oysters baked with savory toppings and creamed spinach and sometimes breadcrumbs.
You can also have the Aussie style, Oysters Mornay with butter and melted cheese or Oysters Kilpatrick which is broiled with Worcestershire and bacon.
You can also enjoy them with bechamel sauce, garlic, mushrooms, cheese, onions and celery.
There’s no wrong way to eat an oyster, as long as you enjoy them. Either way, if you make them Rockefeller or Mornay or Kilpatrick, you can still use the same skills to shuck an oyster at home and enjoy at a fraction of the cost in a restaurant.
IN A NUTSHELL (IN THIS CASE, IN A HALF-SHELL)
The best place to purchase oysters is through your local oyster farmer or a reputable retailer. I like going to our high-end, gourmet grocery store. Check your area and always ask when the oysters were harvested to judge its freshness. The oysters should be sitting on ice when they sell them to you.
Store them properly at home and make sure they do not get submerged in water. Keep them cold and damp and do not freeze them.
Use an oyster shucker and a kitchen towel or shucking glove to be safe when shucking. Oysters must feel a bit of weight in them and not feel hollow. They should taste like the sea.
Enjoy the oysters with any accoutrements of your choice. The most traditional way is with lemon or a mignonette sauce together with a slightly chilled glass of dry white wine or champagne to bring out its flavor.
In the end, there is no right or wrong way to eat oysters. You can have them raw, baked, broiled, grilled. As long as you are enjoying them, oysters are a wonderful delicacy to enjoy at home, without the restaurant price tag.
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