Oysters on the Half Shell is probably one of the most decadent dishes you can serve during the holidays, but I think they’re terrific year-round. After buying live oysters from your market, be sure to scrub them well under running water before serving. Fresh oysters keep about 5 days in the refrigerator, covered in a damp towel or cloth.
You can enjoy oysters fresh on their own with a bit of lemon, horseradish and shallot mignonette (recipe below), or try cooking them in recipes like oyster stew, smoked BBQ oysters or Oysters Rockefeller. No matter what way you choose to go, they make a wonderful pre-dinner appetizer.
How to eat oysters
To eat oysters on the half shell, you find a good lip on the oyster, then slurp the brine and the oyster meat in one go. Take a couple of bites of the oyster to pick up on the texture and flavor.
When eating oysters, a fresh squeeze of lemon or a couple drops of Tabasco is all you need, but many restaurants offer sides like cocktail sauce, shaved horseradish or shallot mignonette sauce as accompaniments.
When buying oysters from your local market, steer clear of those jarred versions. You want them fresh and tightly closed, and of course you’ll need a good oyster knife.
Oysters have about 7 calories each and are rich in protein, vitamin A, B1, B2, C and D. It’s said that Casanova ate them every day, so it’s fitting that oysters on the half shell make the perfect start for a romantic dinner.
Types of Oysters
Here in Southern California, some of the best places to eat live oysters are at King’s Fish House, Bluewater Grill, Water Grill in Los Angeles, and Quality Seafood in Redondo Beach. All get fresh oysters daily from around the world.
Island Creek Oysters are amazing. This raw oyster has a briny, buttery flavor with a firm texture. It goes down great with a bottle of Samuel Adams!
Here in California, the Carlsbad Blondes are a sweet and briny aquaculture from a Carlsbad oyster farm. You can often find them locally at Farmer’s Markets.
Quilcene Bay Oysters come from the Hood Canal in Dubab Bay, Washington. These fresh oysters come wild or cultivated, small or plump, but all have a clean mild flavor.
The Skookum Oyster, found in Washington, is described as rich, earthy and musky due to their environment in the mossy mudflats of Little Skookum Inlet.
The most common oyster you’ll find these days is the Malpeque oyster, known for its sweet and clean, yet briny flavor. Other common oysters are the Connecticut blue point oysters, a favorite since the early 1800s. These are characterized by their firm and crisp texture, with a sweet and salty finish.
The kumamoto oysters are probably one of the sweetest and most enjoyable. Found in California, Oregon, Washington and Mexico, the kumamoto oyster has a light, sweet melon flavor and creamy texture. Plump Hog Island oysters are famous for their smoky, yet sweet and salty flavor.
Another great new variety is the Conway Cup oysters. These oysters are small and plump, with a sweet, clean and very mild saline flavor. If you have a chance to order some of these gems, please do. They are exquisite.
Shallot Mignonette for Oysters on the Half Shell
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup red wine or sherry vinegar
- 3 tablespoons chopped shallots
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Mix ingredients for shallot sauce and reserve in a ramekin.
- Before serving, allow flavors to meld for about 30 minutes at room temperature.