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Demystifying Oyster Eating in New York City: How to Enjoy Shelling Out for Oysters

[ NEW YORK, NY - NYC - 6/22/2006 - www.Littleviews.com ]

Oysters served in New York

>>  Although there was once a time when New Yorkers considered oysters to be a food favored by the poor, as oyster beds were abundant in estuaries (places where the ocean and rivers meet), today oysters are considered a savory indulgence.

For some, the mere mention of raw oysters on the half shell has stomachs rumbling. Others pass up the bivalve, hesitant of its appearance and texture. Well, health nuts take note: oysters are rich in zinc, iodine, vitamin A, and calcium. The slippery shellfish is also quite low in calories. Intrigued? I hope that the following guide will help you appreciate the art of eating the highly prized, raw oyster.

Don't worry about that "R" rule

Eat freshly harvested oysters year around. Experts used to believe that you could only eat oysters during months with the letter "r" in their names, but with refrigeration and fast transportation, this isn't an issue. Still, some people think that oysters taste best between October and February, when the sea is the coldest. Time of year, however, does not affect freshness or safety.

Eat in a crowded oyster bar or restaurant

Oysters served in New YorkTo ensure the freshness of the oysters and seafood on your plate, avoid uncrowded restaurants. (See the bottom of this article for my recommendations for New York's finest oyster joints.)

Ask your server for suggestions

It seems as though there are as many varieties of oysters as there are wines. Ask your server for suggestions and request that he or she point out what's what when your dish is delivered. If you ask, many restaurants, will write down the names for you, so it will be easy to re-order exactly what you like.

Slurp or suck

Pitch the little oyster fork. It doesn't go in your mouth. Use it instead for detaching the oyster from the shell. The proper way to eat oysters, once shucked, (loosened from its shell) is with that fine tool - the mouth.

Cradle the shell in a hand, grasping it with your thumb and first two fingers. Some people look for what they call the "sipping lip" part of the shell before planting their lips on it. When ready, slurp up the oyster, savoring the taste in your mouth. Drink up the salt-watery juice in the shell, too. It's part of the treat.

Don't nibble an oyster

Oysters served in New YorkEat the entire oyster in a single slurp. Remember, you don't want to see what is inside an oyster. You just want to taste it!

Know your accoutrements

The oyster purist will suck naked oysters down in their own juice. Many people, however, add a squeeze of lemon, or a dab of mignonette (red wine vinegar, garlic, and shallots), cocktail sauce, horseradish, or hot sauce.

Enjoy your bread basket

This is one time when it is truly OK to devour the oyster crackers and bread at your table. It's there to help you cleanse your palette between the oyster varieties being sampled.

Give your oyster a quick check-up

Check your oyster's freshness by smelling it. It should smell clean, with a slight hint of the sea (not redolent of fish or bleach). Beware of cloudy or milk-colored oysters, as well as shriveled or blackish ones. The texture of a good oyster is soft and fleshy, while still a bit firm and juicy. Regarding appearance, an oyster at its best is light brown or grey, with a white muscle.

Know your coasts

Oysters served in New YorkEast Coast oysters are flat, briny, and salty, very often with a mineral or metallic flavor. These oysters are more seasonal and take longer to mature. East Coast oysters that I love include Wellfleet, Westport, Bluepoint, and Moonstone. They originate from Massachusetts, Long Island, and Rhode Island.

West Coast oysters are deep, creamy, and sweet, and have a fancier, more jagged shell. These are eaten year round. Washington State produces the ones I love most: Hood Canal, Hama-Hama, and Imperial Eagle Creek oysters.

Pair perfectly

Raw oysters have complex flavors, with various varieties and from various regions. These flavors are perfectly enhanced with white wine. A Muscadet pairs the best, although a Sancere is also delicious with oysters. Aim for crisp and dry wines. If you'd rather have beer, sip on a Guinness.

Try alternatives

Oysters can be fried, steamed, smoked, grilled, boiled, baked, roasted, stewed, canned, and pickled. Oysters Rockefeller, for example, showcase each oyster baked in its own shell and covered with an herbed bread crumb crust. Season them to taste with salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce.

Google for other cooked oyster recipes. You'll come up with baked oysters with spinach, oyster chowder, oysters au parmesan, creamed oysters with leaks, oyster omelets, oysters with wild mushroom stew, and smoked oysters with rice stuffing, to name just a few.

True daredevils can also try oyster shooters. Usually (recipes vary by bartender), each oyster is soaked in two jiggers of vodka, along with horseradish and some lemon. If you are still hesitant about the raw aspect, consider that, when mixed with the vodka, you won't care!

Show when you are done

As a courtesy to your server, turn your shells upside down to indicate you have eaten the oyster and are finished. Good servers will whisk your shell pile away and ask if you'd like more.

Recommended New York restaurants

I particularly love the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal. It is always bustling with diners, travelers, and locals alike, and is a beautiful place to visit. Sit at the bar, in the dining area, the cafeteria-style area, or its saloon for varying social experiences. It's a visually exciting place, too, as the picture tour on their website demonstrates. Their friendly staff is knowledgeable about the finest of details regarding oysters and are happy to make recommendations.

    Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant
    89 E. 42nd Street
    212 490-6650

    Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar
    246 E. 5th Street
    212 673-0338

    210 Spring Street
    212 274-0505

Littleviews also suggests:

Shira Levine

Article and photos by Shira Levine. First published on 6/22/2006. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.

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