National Oyster Day is Saturday, Aug. 5, and whether you like a classic West Coast Kumamoto from the Puget Sound, a briny Blue Point out of the Atlantic or a buttery bivalve mollusk from Central Baja, choosing oysters to fit your taste at a restaurant can be overwhelming.

With dozens of varieties on a growing amount of menus, we turned to Connie and Ted’s executive chef and oyster whisperer Sam Baxter for a quick 101. Michael Cimarusti’s acclaimed seafood haven’s extensive raw bar features a variety of clams, shellfish and oysters including Kumiai and Kumamoto sourced from Baja, Miranda Miyagi and Hama Hama from Washington, Phantom Creek from British Columbia, Fishers Island from New York, and Sweet Petit sourced from Prince Edward Island, Canada.

So how do you pick an oyster when you sit down at a restaurant?

“There are many, many different oysters out there,” the San Fernando Valley native who ate his first oyster when he was 10 tells L.A. Weekly. “The key to enjoying anything –  it’s all subjective. Whether east coast or west coast, small or large, it’s all up to personal taste. West Coast oysters are more approachable for most people, like those from Washington State and Puget Sound. They have a softer salinity and typically come off as being sweeter. The distinctive characteristics of that region are either melon notes on the finish or cucumber. Some that are raised on the beach might have a more gravelly kind of taste. If they’re grown around algae, they may have greener notes like sea lettuce. Salinity from that region varies. East Coast oysters are typically more minerally and flavor of the sea with more salty and briny characteristics. The Atlantic Ocean is inherently saltier than the Pacific. Oysters in Puget Sound are exposed to more freshwater runoff coming from the Cascade Mountains. The beauty is that the taste changes at different times of the year. One oyster can be grown 100 yards down the beach from another and have an entirely different salinity level and flavor profile just due to the current and temperature of the water. The colder, the better.

National Oyster Day

“The beauty of oysters is that the taste changes at different times of the year” (Courtesy Connie & Ted’s)

“The one that took a long time to catch on and has now become super popular is the Baja oyster. The Kumiai has taken the lead. These oysters are grown on the central Baja peninsula outside this giant biosphere reserve. There’s very little continental shelf there, so there’s always upwelling, where the winds blow away surface water. Normally warm water rises, but in this case, all the warmer water blows away and gets replaced by the cold water from down below, which is super nutrient-dense. It makes for a superb year-round growing region. They grow in a super healthy environment year-round. We’ll have two or three different oysters coming from Central Baja. There’s also a pure-bred kumamoto coming from that area that rivals those coming from Washington state that has a higher salinity level that covers up some of the sweetness you normally get but is still very umami-rich.”

What are the keys to choosing the best oysters?

  • Where is the oyster from? The first thing you’re going to ask is to see the tag of the oyster you’re buying. They should have that on display and will tell you when and where the oyster is harvested. Buy oysters from certified waters. Just as climate and soil affect the taste of wine, an oyster’s flavor is impacted by the natural environment where it lives. East and West coasts can produce distinctly different flavor profiles due to factors like nutrients in the water and currents.
  • When was the oyster harvested? You’re relying on them to make sure that they have the proper tag associated with the oyster. If it’s within six or seven days of that harvest date, that’s getting a bit long but should be acceptable. East Coast oysters tend to have a longer shelf life than those on the West Coast, but a good rule of thumb is to buy oysters closest to your region. Oysters that have been out of the water for the shortest period of time are always the best to eat. 
  • Is the shell loose? The third thing to look for is if any of the shells are sitting open, or even slightly agape. Oysters must always be eaten live, and when an oyster is alive, the shell is clamped tightly and rigidly shut. If your oyster has a shell that’s moving about, that means it is a dead and effectively inedible oyster.

For more gripping oyster tales, catch chef Baxter and other experts on SOMM TV’s latest documentary The Oyster Farmer, also featuring local Uni Whisperer Stephanie Mutz.

National Oyster Day

The Oyster Farmer in Morro Bay (Courtesy SOMM TV)


























































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