"Oysters have been eaten by everyone--from kings and queens to peasants," says Kyle Needham of Brooklyn Oyster Party.
Maybe it's their rich history (predating dinosaurs) that has us hooked. Maybe it's the allure of their freshness: alive one minute, a mouthful of the sea the next. Maybe it's the promise of a dollar-oyster happy hour after a long day. Or maybe it's just because eating oysters is pretty damn fun.
Whatever the case may be, conventional wisdom tells us that it's high time to shuck and slurp, seeing as we're now in a month ending in "r."
What better way to celebrate the season than by bringing your friends together for an oyster party (if for nothing other than the amusement of watching them try to slurp gracefully). Needham's small catering outfit is one of many surfacing around the country that take care of the mollusk selection and shucking for private parties. If you don't have that luxury, we asked him for tips on throwing your own briny bash.
Shell Game: Needham recommends six to 12 oysters per person. If you're going to buy more than one kind, select different regions, or make it an East vs. West matchup.
What are some varieties to look for? Needham waxed poetic about the beauty of elusive, hulking Maine-grown Belons, describing their "buttery, citrusy meat" as "similar to biting through a filet mignon" (#1).
We also sampled Coromandels from New Zealand (#2, cucumber and honeydew notes), Washington's miniscule Kumamotos (#3, creamy bellies with low salinity), Kusshi oysters from British Columbia (#4, delicate and clean, like salty caviar), Rhode Island's Moonstones (#5, like a mouthful of ocean) and Pemaquids, also from Maine (#6, brackish with great salt).
Shuck Yeah: The biggest challenge of hosting your own oyster party--especially if you're not a pro--is prying open stubborn shells. There's more than one way to shuck, but Tasting Table's executive chef, Brendan McHale, gives us his complete instructions here.
To Mignonette or Not: You could go the purist route and serve your oysters with nothing more than a wedge of lemon. After all, as Needham points out, "Not eating oysters plain is kind of like not being able to eat a steak without A1 sauce."
But the half shells can be a saline slate for a variety of dressings. Try our Test Kitchen's three esoteric toppings--Preserved Lemon and Apple; Pickled Beets and Herb Oil and Saffron-Pickled Cucumbers and Aleppo--to experiment with flavor and texture.
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