Oysters should be stored at a low temperature and smell briny-fresh. The shells should be clean, bright, tightly-closed and unbroken.
Unopened (live) oysters can be kept in the fridge, covered in wet kitchen towels, for two or three days – keep a check on them and discard any that open. Do not store in an airtight container, or under fresh water, as this will cause them to die.
Shucked oysters can be kept refrigerated in a sealed container for four or five days. They can also be frozen (previously frozen oysters are better for cooking than eating raw).
Oysters are farmed in British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The two main types of oysters farmed in Canada are Eastern and Pacific. Some of the best-known and “bar” favourite oysters are the Malpeque from Prince Edward Island and the Kusshi from British Columbia. There are three grades of oysters: choice, standard and commercial – with choice being the highest valued product. The shell and meat are both taken into account for these rankings.
There are two forms of the Eastern (American) oyster marketed from Atlantic Canada. The traditional-sized oyster is farmed or wild harvested when the shell measures over 8 cm (3 inches) in length from the hinge to the tip of the shell. It can take three to four years for a traditional-size oyster to grow from seed. The other form of Eastern (American oyster) is called the “cocktail” oyster. These oysters are less than 8 cm (3 inches) and take two-and-a-half to three years to grow from seed.
All Pacific oysters produced on the west coast of Canada were introduced specifically for aquaculture from Japan (Japanese, Yesso or Cupped varieties). The tiny Olympia oyster is the only Pacific variety native to the west coast that is making a come-back through oyster farming. The average cultured Pacific oyster is harvested when it reaches between 8 and 10 cm (3-4 inches) in length.
Tips for shucking and eating an oyster
Opening an oyster requires some practice. It is recommended that you use an oyster knife, which has a strong, thick blade designed specifically for opening the shells.
- Scrub the whole oyster clean with a brush under cold running water.
- For protection, place a folded kitchen towel in the palm of your hand. Holding an oyster with the cupped side facing down, use the knife to pry into the oyster’s hinge (bottom, middle).
- Twist the knife to pop off the top shell.
- Gently slide knife along the inside of the top shell to loosen the flesh from the shell. Remove the top shell.
- Run the knife under the flesh of the oyster meat to detach it from the bottom shell. Prepare as desired.
To eat a raw oyster on the half-shell:
Pick up the bottom shell, taking care not to spill the oyster liquid. Bring the broad end to your lips, tip the shell, tilt your head back and let it slide in.
Tip: Take time to chew. Anecdotal evidence suggests that chewing helps to release the “romantic” qualities of the oyster into the body quicker.
Raw oysters are best with a squeeze of lemon and a pint of Guinness. A drop of Tabasco sauce can be added if desired. Cooking oysters can temper the salty tang and intensify the creaminess of the flavour. Grilling or poaching produce great results