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What is it?

These craggy bivalves are worshipped by conoisseurs but misunderstood by many. There are five major types of oysters available in the U.S.: the Eastern, European Flat (aka Belon), Kumamoto, and Olympia, and the Pacific.

Among these five species are many sub-varieties, which boast different flavors, shapes, textures and colors, depending on the conditions they are grown in. Appropriately, the common names of all these varieties, like wine appellations, signify where they’re from; well-known examples include the Bluepoint (from Long Island), Apalachiola (from Florida), and Tomales Bay (from California).

The best way to appreciate the different varieties of oysters is to eat them raw, but oysters are also good fried, broiled or grilled, and in seafood stews.

How to choose:

There’s a common belief that you should only eat oysters in months that have an “r” in them—in other words, not in the summer. It’s not so much that oysters in the summer are unhealthy, but since the creatures spawn in the summer, making them milky and soft, they’re not at they’re best, texture-wise.

At the market, look for oysters that feel heavy in the hand, with shells that are shut tight-a good sign that there’s a fresh, juicy oyster inside. Don’t eat any open oysters, even if they shut after being nudged, cautions Rowley. While oysters harvested the preceding day are ideal, those culled up to a week before are fine. If in doubt, ask your fish merchant to show you the shipping tag; by law, it must be marked with the harvest date and affixed to the shipping container.

How to store:

As soon as you get your oysters home, stash them in the refrigerator. Each oyster should have its convex side facing down (the more deeply cupped half holds the flesh and liquor). Drape a wet towel over them so the shells don’t dry out. Stored this way, the oysters will stay alive for up to a week, although the sooner they’re eaten the better the flavor.

If you have the fishmonger shuck the oysters for you, plan on eating them the same day.


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