High Life Decoded: Your Essential Guide to Eating Oysters

10 tips for navigating the raw bar like a pro.


Photo: Liz Barclay

1. Are oysters seasonal, or can you eat them year-round?

Sandy Ingber: “The thought in the past was that only during the “r” months [i.e., months that include the letter r, such as September and October], you would eat oysters. But with the amount of oyster farming that’s been done in America and air freight refrigeration, there are so many oysters available now. I have 30 different oysters in the summer alone on my menu.

“The saying began because oysters spawn during the warm weather. They don’t all spawn at the same time, however, so there are plenty varieties available while others are not. You would not want to eat spawning oysters, which could have big fat bellies and be very, very creamy, or overly dry. Spawning oysters are not harmful to your health—they are just not palatable. Basically you want a beautiful crisp, solid-looking oysters that are full of juice. Not one with a big, fat, creamy belly.”

Todd Mitgang: “It used to be only eat oysters in months that had the letter r in them. Back then you would eat oysters in colder months, when waters were colder. It had to do with some bacterias that could harm the oysters. Now, with the way [oyster farmers] are monitoring and sampling the waters, they are able to keep on top of viruses even in warmer months. If there are harmful bacteria in the water, either harvesters are able to treat them and prevent the oysters from being damaged, or they are aware of it and they won’t be sold to the open market. The waters will then be treated and cleaned up before a new batch of oysters are harvested.

“When people say anything about seasons, I think it has more to do with colder waters—just like the freezer kills bacteria. It has more to do with disease than anything else.”

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  • Katy Davidson

    Hey, nice article, but just wanted to say, eating oysters without chewing is a bit of an old folk tale. If you don’t chew, firstly you may get it stuck in your throat if it is of the larger variety (major off-putter for newbies) and secondly, miss out on a whole flavour, texture and quite physically juddering experience (in a good way). I always compare it to a good wine. You would not put it in shot glass and down it in one.. it’s the same for oysters, they are to be savoured before being swallowed. I always recommend sipping a little of the liquor first to prime the palate, then tipping the oyster in and giving it a good checking out with your tongue moving it across your palate briefly, then chewing to release the creaminess and get the whole sensual experience zinging in your mouth. I’m based in the UK and run http://www.mangezmoi.co.uk Another oyster passionista! :)

  • Katy Davidson

    HI there, nice article (just posted a comment previously but it didn’t seem to stick). Just wanted to say that the swallowing the oyster whole thing is a bit of an old folk tale. (highly likely to be from the days when there was no refrigeration and oysters were a major source of protein for the poor and they had to get volume down for nutrition reasons, rather than our lucky pleasure marathons with these bivalves). If you down an oyster in one, firstly you’ll possibly get it a little stuck in your throat if it’s one of the larger varieties (common off-putter for newbies) and secondly, you’ll be missing out on a whole journey of flavour, texture and exhilaration. When I do my oyster talks I always compare it to a fine wine.. you wouldn’t put it in a shot glass and down it in one gulp. The oyster deserves the same reverence. I always recommend having a little sip of the liquor to prime the palate and get a feel for the merroir of the oyster, then tip it gently into your mouth, get a good feel of it with your tongue, gliding it over your palate, then give it a good couple of chews to release the creaminess and get that whole juddering experience of flavour, texture and vitality that comes with eating these wondrous little capsules of primordial ocean.. ;)

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  • mission_dog

    maison premiere is legit, love that place.

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