Your Guide to Ordering and Pairing Oysters

Now that we’re in the summer swing, we’ve been enjoying our fair share of al fresco happy hour drinks at the end of the day. But, it’s not just about the cocktails, although they are important. We’ve been crushing hard on oysters—they go well with practically every drink on summer menus. With quite a few oysters to choose from, though, it’s not uncommon to ask for recommendations when ordering (and tasting), especially since most of us aren’t oyster pros. To find out exactly what to look for, we decided to catch up with oyster aficionado Julie Qiu of In A Half Shell. Let’s dive right in…

How to order oysters

There are a few things to keep in mind to make for a perfect oyster happy hour, every time.

Order locally
While the allure of another coast may draw you in, Julie recommends sticking with oysters caught nearby because they’re likely fresher. However, if you’re curious and want to try some from each coast, there’s no harm in that. “East Coast oysters tend to be more light-bodied, briny, crisp, buttery. West Coast oysters tend to be more medium-bodied, minerally, creamy, and sweet.”

Opt for a raw bar
Whenever possible, order oysters from a seafood-centric restaurant. Think a raw bar, where you’ll see the oysters shucked (opened) right in front of you. There’s an art to shucking oystas, and the restaurant should want to show off.

Order different varieties
While it’s tempting to order a round of the happy hour special, exploring different varieties makes things way more fun. If you’re up for it, try ordering two of each variety, but max out at four to six types to prevent your palate from becoming fatigued (yes, this could happen to you!).

How to taste oysters

Now that you know what to look out for when ordering, it’s time to start eating. It’s pretty similar to wine tasting (with notes and all), maybe even a bit more complex. Every variety, and oyster itself, is different—with each bite you experience many flavors and textures. That being said, Julie recommends following the Six S’s of Oyster Tasting.

The first step in tasting is to look at each oyster. Do a little studying for extra credit. Take in all the beauty, from shells, shapes, and color. It’s also a good time to make sure that each oyster is full and hydrated with liquid (or oyster liquor) within each shell, without any sand.

Next, you’ll want to smell the oysters. You can skip this step if you’re out with a group. Your oysters should smell sweet, like a light sea breeze.

Oyster liquor is meant to be savored. It gives a hint of the salinity of the oyster, prepping your palate for what’s to come. So, go ahead and sip away. But, leave some for the next step…

Next, Julie recommends “shimmy[ing] the oyster meat loose, tilt[ing] the flat edge of the shell to your lips, and slurp[ing]!” If you can go without cocktail sauce and such, do it. If not, check out this guide to all the delicious oyster extras!

This may surprise, but next, make sure to chew your oyster three to four times before swallowing. Not only will you experience the oyster’s full-body taste, but with each bite, its flavor may progress from briny to creamy, and perhaps even sweet. You may even find yourself picking up on notes like seaweed, miso, and more, once you’ve tried more than a few.

After enjoying your oysters, admire the beauty. Yes, maybe that’s a little sappy, but also oysters are awesome and you should go full force with it.

How to pair oysters

Lucky for us, the flavor profiles of oysters are highlighted when paired with very popular happy hour beverages. We’re talking beer, wine, Champagne, mezcal, and yes, even sake (just to name a few). Julie shared a few of her favorite choices:

We’re talking crisp, white wines and Champagnes, preferably on the dry side. Think a nice pinot grigio, sauv blanc, or chardonnay.

Beer of all kinds are welcome in this category, but for the sake of summer, go lager or pilsner.

Honestly, you can really pair your oysters with whatever booze you’re currently craving, as long as it stays on the lighter side of things. Give sake a taste, or maybe a spicy mezcal number.

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