I am a blog writer and this particular post was written for Block 34 Restaurant in San Mateo, CA.
There are few delicacies that come from the ocean that evoke such a reaction like the Oyster. While many find these sessile mollusks a gift to the palate and to be treasured, others, are not so willing to explore the sweet, briny and somewhat negotiable flesh. Either way, one cannot argue that they are fascinating creatures and worthy of further exploration.
There are many articles and blogs written about oysters and very often the question is asked: “Who was the first person to open this odd looking bivalve, and taste it raw for the first time?” Regardless, we’re thankful they did.
The oyster is found in temperate salt water environments high in nutrients. According to National Geographic, oysters are thought to be among the oldest animals on the planet, although their exact evolutionary path remains unclear.
It used to be that one should only indulge on oysters in the months that have the letter “R” in them (September – April), but that is changing. Especially as oyster farming grows in popularity.
Oysters naturally grow in partly enclosed coastal body of brackish waters … That is bodies of water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, with a free connection to the open sea. When farmed, the temperature and salinity of the water are controlled (or at least monitored), so as to induce spawning and fertilization, as well as to speed the rate of maturation – which can take several years.
With many varieties to choose from when dining out, what is sold is certainly dictated by what is available to the region but it’s critical to ensure that they are live and fresh – to be enjoyed at their peak.
There are the prized New England oysters and New Yorkers love their Blue Points but it’s the reigning Kumamoto that rules on the West Coast. It makes no difference that a minimal number of species of oysters are harvested in the United States, the taste, no matter the region, is all about local!
Pacific oysters are small and sweet and the world’s most cultivated oyster. They are growing in popularity in this area and abroad. Kumamotos, are small, sweet, almost nutty oysters characterized by their deep, almost bowl-shaped shell. They spawn later and in warmer water than other oysters, so they remain firm and sweet well into summer months. The name Kumamoto is so valued that Kumamotos are always labeled as such, although some places will also specify where they are from.
Kumamotos used to be lumped in with Pacific oysters, but it ends up they are very much their own species.
If unfamiliar with how to order and eat raw oysters, Bon Appetite magazine suggests at the very least, one should become familiar with knowing some starter lingo (mild, briny, buttery) and remember, when dining out, your server will help direct you to “oyster bliss”. Similar to a wine tasting, begin with milder tastes, building up the strength of flavor and level of brine.
Again, not unlike wine, start with the smell. The aroma should be super-fresh, instantly transporting you to the sea. Slurp the meat with its “liquor” and give it two or three good chews. Salt or brine hits first–ranging from subtle to bold. Next you might detect a creamy or buttery flavor (of varying intensities) and finally a sweetness.
Bon Appetite provides some simple guidelines when eating oysters. They are as follows:
- Find a server with opinions to help you choose wisely.
- Eat with your eyes first: a healthy oyster fills out the sturdy shell with fat, firm meat.
- Feel free to send oysters back (an oyster should be swimming in the shell, never dry).
- Order a few of the same type. Give yourself multiple tastes to identify its character.
- Beware of oysters that are thin, watery, snotty, or contain a lot of tissue.
- Slurp-and-swallow. Chew 2 or 3 times.
- Think all oysters are the same. Most East Coast oysters are the same species (Virginica), but taste different depending on origin and season.
- Drown oysters in toppings. Always eat the first one “naked.”
- Eat oysters at a restaurant that pre-shucks.
In the end, give them a try.
At Block 34 we’ll be delighting your senses with these lovely treats and know you’ll enjoy eating them as much as we’ll enjoy preparing and serving them.